Jews mobilize to picket Rainbow grocery on Sunday

Frustrated by an ongoing boycott of Israeli goods at Rainbow Grocery Cooperative — and the store's ongoing insistence that there is no boycott — several Jewish groups have organized a picket of the San Francisco store at noon Sunday.

"They bring this on themselves," said Ian Zimmerman, the San Francisco lawyer whose angry chain

e-mail has ricocheted throughout the Jewish community for the past several weeks.

"The time for action has come, especially in light of the fact that Rainbow Grocery store has refused to even speak with the Jewish Community Relations Council," Zimmerman said. "Frankly, I think their conduct borders on arrogant. If you have a dispute, the best policy is to air your differences and have a reasonable, balanced conversation so all views can be expressed, so all sides know what the other is saying.

"If they refuse to even enter into that kind of agreement, what alternatives are left?"

Zimmerman and other former Rainbow shoppers voted Dec. 10 to picket the store protesting boycotts by two of its departments. The JCRC and the activist group Grassroots for Israel quickly stepped in to lend administrative and logistical support.

Scott Bradley, a member of the worker-owned cooperative's public relations committee, told the Bulletin that members of the store's packaged- and bulk-goods departments opted to cease stocking Israeli goods more than a year ago in a gesture of support for the Palestinians.

Via letters and bulk e-mails sent to shoppers and a statement on its Web site — — the store maintains that no boycott exists, however, because the matter was not approved by the majority of its workforce.

In a brief phone interview, a woman claiming to be a member of the store's board of directors told the Bulletin, "There's no boycott, so what's the issue?" When asked her name, she audibly asked someone standing nearby, "Should I give him my name?" and proceeded to hang up the phone.

Said Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the JCRC: "I think the fact the store has tried to find numerous ways to suggest it's not actually participating in a boycott, when the truth is there has been no change in those two departments' practices, has added to the sense of outrage in the community.

"So I think there is a strong interest on the part of many people in our community to participate in the kind of event taking place on Sunday as an opportunity to express our concern and outrage."

Dr. Jeff Halbrecht, a founder of Grassroots for Israel, anticipates hundreds of protesters will picket the grocery store at 1745 Folsom St.

"I think we have several intentions, and one is that we're frustrated with the lack of forthrightness on Rainbow's part in even being comfortable admitting they're boycotting Israel, even though they are," he said.

"I think we want to send a very strong and clear message that this community will not stand idly by and tolerate indiscriminate attacks against Israel and boycotts against Israel. It's a message to any other merchants who might think along the same lines."

In the event of rain, Halbrecht joked that those who arrive early could stake out choice spots underneath a nearby freeway on-ramp, while Zimmerman recommended "umbrellas, hats and raincoats."

Seth Charney, a San Francisco psychiatrist, said he can't wait to picket Rainbow on Sunday, and he may picket the store on his own even earlier than that.

He said his calls to the store were met with hostility.

Workers told him the newspapers were lying about an Israeli boycott, but they later said the two departments' actions were legitimate because they were initiated by Jewish workers.

Charney said that when he questioned how well those workers represented the Jewish community, the Rainbow employee told him "Palestinians deserve rights, get accustomed to it," and hung up.

"If they feel this strongly, they should be open and proud about" the Israeli boycott, said Charney. "But they're not."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.