Sainsbury’s has come under fire after temporarily removing kosher products from a store while a protest calling on the grocer to boycott Israeli goods took place outside.

It is understood that the manager of the store took the decision to remove all kosher products as protesters gathered on the street outside Sainsbury’s store in Holborn, central London on Saturday, in fear that the staff could be attacked or the shop damaged for stocking the goods. The products were later put back on the shelves.

The incident occurred on the same day that stock was damaged at a Tesco store in Birmingham by pro-Palestinian protestors who are reported to have rushed the store in Hodge Hill. One person was arrested and another two are understood to have been escorted off the premises.

Sainsbury’s has been heavily criticised on social media for the decision to remove the products. One person tweeted it was a “political statement” at a time of high tension in the Middle East. It has also received numerous complaints on its Facebook page, with users describing the retailer as “anti-Semitic” and that the move was “deeply offensive” to Jewish people.

One Twitter user, Colin Appleby, photographed the empty refrigerator shelves and posted the picture online, claiming that one member of staff had said “we support free Gaza”. A Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said that there was “no evidence” that a colleague had made the comment.

She said: “As a non-political organisation, Sainsbury’s would never take such a decision on grounds other than ensuring the quality or safety of our products. We would like to apologise for any inconvenience or offence caused. The decision was taken in one store only to move these chilled products to cold storage elsewhere in that store for a short period on Saturday as a precautionary measure during a demonstration close by.”

She added that the chilled products had only been removed for a short time, and that ambient kosher products had been “kept on sale in store throughout”.