Alleged anti-Jewish tirade at Rainbow sparks probe

“Paper or plastic?” is a checkout line conversation-starter David Alexander Nahmod has heard a million times.

But “Jews need to be killed, it’s the only way to get them off Palestinian land” and “You’re just a stupid Jew” are snippets he says he heard at the checkout line once — and that was enough.

Nahmod, a 51-year-old freelance writer and Sephardic Jew, recently filed a complaint with San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission claiming discrimination when a counterwoman at the Rainbow Grocery Cooperative allegedly showered him with anti-Semitic invective late last year.

Nahmod further claims that when he complained to customer relations about the incident, the attendant told him to leave him alone or he’d “whoop” him.

Rainbow officials declined to field j.’s numerous phone calls. One member of the store’s board abruptly hung up during a phone interview, while another demanded that an interview request be submitted in writing. It was. We then received a fax claiming Nahmod was banned from the store because of his “continued documented harrasment.”

Ed Ilumin, an officer at the Human Rights Coalition, said that if Nahmod’s complaint is true, Rainbow would be in violation of a San Francisco municipal code prohibiting discrimination by a business or public accommodation based on race, ethnicity or religion.

Thousands of dollars in fines could be levied against the store. In addition, the co-op could lose its city contracts. But the HRC’s most powerful weapon may be the negative publicity that comes with a finding of discrimination.

“Certainly it would be damaging for a business if we found willful discrimination conducted there,” Ilumin said. He expects the HRC to issue a decision by early August.

In 2002, Rainbow Grocery shocked the organized Jewish community when it announced that several of its departments were boycotting Israeli goods. After a month of protests — and harsh coverage in the local press — the store capitulated. Subsequent attempts to boycott Israeli goods were voted down by the store’s workers.

After writing an email to the store detailing his complaints and stating he would not be back, Nahmod received a phone message informing him the store’s steering committee had decided he was no longer welcome there.

Nahmod — who moved back to San Francisco in 2004 after a long absence — said he was unaware of Rainbow’s past anti-Israel behavior until after his run-in.

In the months since his spat with the store, he has talked to reporters at several local newspapers and TV stations but has been told his story is “not important.”

That has been frustrating, he acknowledges. He posits that if he had been discriminated against because he was black or gay, “it’d be on the 6 o’clock news and people would be running through the streets with banners that say ‘Stop the hate.’ But you call someone a ‘stupid Jew’ and it’s acceptable.

“Some of our self-serving proclamations about tolerance are not as true as we’d like to think,” he said.

Although Nahmod doesn’t want anyone fired or the store run out of business, he would like the checker he dealt with to “take anger management classes” and see Rainbow “shamed into being honest with themselves about their hypocrisy.”

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.