Middle East unrest hits grocery store

The tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have spilled into the aisles of a San Francisco supermarket, where certain departments of the co-op Rainbow Grocery have removed Israeli-made products from their shelves.

Although Israeli products remain on the shelves of other Rainbow departments, which are run independently, some workers are pushing for a storewide boycott, an employee of the Mission District store said Tuesday.

The existing partial ban on Israeli-made goods, imposed by the proprietors of Rainbow’s packaged-food and bulk-food departments, is causing controversy both inside and outside the Folsom Street store. It’s angering supporters of Israel at the same time as pressure is building to broaden the boycott to include other food items as well as beauty, health and other items, said Scott Bradley, a spokesman for the co-op who has worked there for three years. “We have a lot of people who are angry because they believe (the entire store is) boycotting, even though we’re not,” he said Tuesday afternoon amid a rash of phone calls. “A lot of people are talking about it now on both sides. Nobody has proposed anything for a vote.”

A few Israeli-made packaged foods including gelt, the chocolate coins popular at Hannukah, were removed from the store’s shelves about a year ago, Bradley said.

The move was largely unnoticed until recently, when customers began looking for the candy ahead of the holidays, he said.

In Rainbow’s nontraditional, decentralized organization, departments within the 27-year-old co-op act autonomously. And Bradley said most departments have decided so far to continue carrying Israeli-made products such as sea salt, herbal remedies and candles.

Kosher and Jewish products made outside Israel are not among the products under discussion, Bradley said.

A storewide boycott of Israeli-made goods would require a 51 percent vote of worker-members, he said. The store has about 200 employees, 175 of whom have voting privileges.

After a board meeting at the store Tuesday, Bradley said it was unclear how much support exists for a storewide boycott. But he acknowledged that the debate has heated up in recent days.

For several months, the Justice in Palestine Coalition of the Bay Area has been pushing Rainbow Grocery to remove all Israeli-made products from its shelves as soon as possible, coalition member Eyad Kishawi said Tuesday. The coalition wants similar actions taken by about 30 other Bay Area businesses it considers socially and politically progressive, as a show of support for Palestinians and to minimize financial support for Israeli exporters.

“We are very close to getting the whole store to deshelve Israeli products,” Kishawi said. The campaign is supported by the newly formed Divestment Resource Center of San Francisco, of which he is a member. He said the center was formed to urge companies and individuals to withdraw investment and aid from Israel and stop buying goods made there.