The bad seeds: S.F. store removes anti-Semitic packaging from shelves

Since 1913, the Anti-Defamation League has been the driving force behind eradicating anti-Semitism, bigotry and extremism in an effort to secure justice and fair treatment of all citizens.

This time, however, the Central Pacific regional office unintentionally caught the wrong guy.

The owners of the New World Market in San Francisco were slapped with a letter from the ADL after a teenager spotted a package of sunflower seeds with an anti-Semitic label in their store.

And while the ADL was merely doing its job to prevent such products from being sold to the public, the organization didn’t realize that the store’s owners were in fact Russian Jews.  

“It’s unfortunate that the storeowners were Jewish and had this product in their shop,” said Nancy Appel, associate director of the ADL’s Central Pacific region. “It’s too bad that they didn’t notice it in the first place.” 

The Kremlin Kitchen–brand package of sunflower seeds features a stereotypical, hook-nosed Jew wearing a yarmulke flanked by two phrases in Cyrillic. (Translated, the words mean: “Shalom from Israel” and “spit them out everywhere.”)

Manager Michael Sukhovisky said he was glad to receive the ADL’s letter, as it forced him and his wife, Nonna Sukhovisky, to take a closer look at the seeds’ packaging.

“We took them off the shelves immediately,” Michael Sukhovisky said. “We hate anti-Semitism and ran away from it in Russia.”

He explained that his wife purchased the seeds and stocked the product, all the while unaware of the label’s offensive nature.

“It’s an ugly picture,” he continued. “We were really surprised and don’t want to see this in the United States.”

The image caught 13-year-old Renee Torchio–Mac Donald’s attention while she was shopping with her mother at the Richmond District store Jan. 17.

“At first, I didn’t know what to think about it,” said Renee, an eighth-grader at Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Francisco. “It seemed impossible for a store in the Bay Area to be carrying such a product.”

When repeated attempts to speak with Nonna Sukhovisky failed, Renee contacted Appel to report her finding.

On Jan. 30, Appel mailed a letter that outlined the ADL’s concern about the negative picture and urged the owners to remove the product from the store’s shelves.

“This is a pretty clear-cut case,” Appel said. “No decent merchant should be selling this.”

The product, which is made in the former Soviet Union but distributed in the United States by AHT International, an Iranian exporter of dried fruits and nuts, surfaced at four New York markets and two retail outlets in Canada last year.

The owners of those stores eventually agreed to take the product off their shelves.

Back in S.F., Appel said she hopes the Sukhoviskys will pay more attention to items they stock in the future.   

“There may be other products with similar packaging out there,” she said. “I wouldn’t be surprised.”