Judge strikes down lawsuit against Olympia Co-op boycott of Israeli goods

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
on 30 Comments
Olympia BDS
Olympia BDS supporters in Bil’in, Palestine. (Photo: Olympia BDS)

Today, a judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Olympia Food Co-op’s boycott against Israeli products. The Co-op’s decision to de-shelve Israeli products was brought to court after five members sued the co-op.

Initially, the plaintiffs petitioned the Co-op to reverse the 2010 board decision. Members of the board then offered to move the decision to a membership vote, which the plaintiffs rejected, opting for a lawsuit. One of the plaintiffs is a supporter of the hard-line Zionist group Stand With US.  The Israeli consulate is also backing the group.

The judge tossed the case, finding the plaintiffs attempted to coerce the Olympia Food Co-op. This type of case is called SLAPP suit, or strategic lawsuit against public participation. Washington state has an anti-SLAPP statue, which awards putative damages to the defendants as a way of deterring expensive lawsuits seeking to inhibit free speech. The plaintiffs could be ordered to pay $10,000 to each of the collective members and cover legal fees.

Maria LaHood from Center for Constitutional Rights congratulated the ruling:

‘We are pleased the Court found this case to be what it is – an attempt to chill free speech on a matter of public concern. This sends a message to those trying to silence support of Palestinian human rights to think twice before they bring a lawsuit.’

In a press release, the Co-op announced their victory:

SLAPPs are lawsuits that target the constitutional rights of free speech and petition in connection with an issue of public concern Although many cases that qualify as SLAPPs are without legal merit, they can nonetheless effectively achieve their primary purpose: to chill public debate on specific issues. Defending against a SLAPP requires substantial money, time, and legal resources, and can divert attention away from the public issue and intimidate and silence other speakers. Washington State’s Anti-SLAPP statute was enacted in 2010 to deter such lawsuits.

The boycott is part of a global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel for what boycotters say are violations of international law and the denial of Palestinian human rights. The lawsuit seeks to prevent enforcement of the boycott policy and to collect monetary damages against the 16 past and current board members. The case was filed by five co-op members, purporting to bring the suit on behalf of the co-op itself, which has approximately 22,000 members.

The Olympia Food Co-op notes that before the plaintiffs filed suit, they sent a letter to the co-op threatening “complicated, burdensome, and expensive.”

As the first anti-BDS case filed in the U.S., the lawsuit acts as a precedent: courts will not rule in favor of bullies.  A drafter of the anti-SLAPP law, attorney Bruce Johnson, was “thrilled that the court saw fit to protect the board’s right to free speech. This decision affirms the right to engage in peaceful boycotts without fear of being dragged through expensive litigation.”

 

About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Mondoweiss.net. Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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30 Responses

  1. Bumblebye
    February 27, 2012, 6:16 pm

    FANtastic! Excellent. SLAPPed ’em down!

  2. pabelmont
    February 27, 2012, 6:26 pm

    What a wonderful win! $10,000 per defendant and legal fees! Terrific! BDS is looking good in Washington State.

    What’d this lawsuit POTENTIALLY cost the Olympia defendants — in legal fees? Here, because of the SLAPP statute, the attorneys for the Olympia defendants may have accepted payment contingent on winning and amounting to whatever the court ultimately allows for attorney’s fees. If so, the Olympia defendants had ZERO potential legal fees. This is a HUGE advantage by virtue of a SLAPP statute of this kind. If your case is good, it can get you free representation and also get your attorneys paid if you win — which encourages skillful attorneys to take meritorious SLAPP cases.

  3. Duscany
    February 27, 2012, 6:41 pm

    A great decision by a smart judge. But even so the story can’t be right. It says the judge awarded $10,000 to each member of the 22,000 member collective. That comes to $220 million.

    This can’t possibly be right. I miss something or are the details about the verdict wrong?

    • Linda J
      February 28, 2012, 12:17 am

      my understanding is the $10,000 would go to each of the 16 co-op board members who were sued by the pro-israeli 5 members.

  4. Les
    February 27, 2012, 6:42 pm

    Remarkable. Every state should have such a law.

  5. Sin Nombre
    February 27, 2012, 6:51 pm

    Allison Deger wrote:

    “The plaintiffs were therefore ordered to pay $10,000 to each of the collective members and cover legal fees.”

    I don’t think so, Allison, at least not yet. The media report you initially linked to just noted that this was the potential penalty the Washington anti-SLAPP law provides, with the Judge going on vacation and promising to rule on damages when he gets back.

    Plus it appears that the Judge seemed to try suggesting ways of the parties settling their differences by having all Co-op members vote on a BDS decision, rather than going along with the Board-only decision so far. And I think the story notes the Judge saying he expects an appeal of his decision, all of which suggests to me that the Judge wasn’t all that strongly outraged against the plaintiffs.

    (Not to indict the Judge; most try just as a matter of course to get battling parties to settle their differences outside of court.)

    Anyway I don’t think we’ve seen the end of this, and one aspect that wasn’t mentioned (perhaps for good reason not being relevant, but I dunno) is that I thought there was some piece of Federal legislation doing something like making it illegal for anyone to join any attempt to boycott Israel’s product or etc. Or maybe that was only if they formally tried to join the arab world’s boycott of same in some way or etc.

    Regardless, wouldn’t surprise me if in reaction to this Washington state business is that if that Fed law doesn’t play any part what we see is Israel and its partisans in fact getting the Congress to pass a new law outlawing BDS participation. You know … getting 67 senators signatures on a napkin to that effect by nightfall….

    Something to watch for in the future with this BDS thing anyway I think.

  6. Sumud
    February 27, 2012, 7:19 pm

    Have I understand this correctly?

    The plaintiffs were therefore ordered to pay $10,000 to each of the collective members and cover legal fees.

    The case was filed by five co-op members, purporting to bring the suit on behalf of the co-op itself, which has approximately 22,000 members.

    So, the plaintiffs owe Olympia Co-Op members $220 million dollars…!?

  7. Philip Munger
    February 27, 2012, 7:23 pm

    This is GREAT news!

  8. FreddyV
    February 27, 2012, 7:56 pm

    Yes!!!!!!!!!

  9. radii
    February 27, 2012, 9:47 pm

    one small victory at a time – we shall overcome the evil that is state zionism

  10. edwin
    February 27, 2012, 10:17 pm

    Good news.

  11. Chaos4700
    February 27, 2012, 10:32 pm

    This type of case is called SLAPP suit, or strategic lawsuit against public participation. Washington state has an anti-SLAPP statue, which awards putative damages to the defendants as a way of deterring expensive lawsuits seeking to inhibit free speech. The plaintiffs were therefore ordered to pay $10,000 to each of the collective members and cover legal fees.

    Okay wait a minute. You’re telling me there are still parts of the US where they still protect Constitutional rights? Full stop?

    The case was filed by five co-op members, purporting to bring the suit on behalf of the co-op itself, which has approximately 22,000 members.

    Okay stop me if I’m wrong: for pressing this frivolous lawsuit, those five Zionistas will have to pay out $22,000,000 dollars? Plus everybody’s legal fees?

    • Light
      February 28, 2012, 12:17 am

      No. The maximum penalty would be $160000, $10000 per defendant.

      • Chaos4700
        February 28, 2012, 9:52 am

        Ah. Good point, the defendants in this case are the co-op board members, not the entire co-op. Still, $160,000 is nothing to sneeze at. For the wage I’ve worked at for the better part of the last five years, that’s more than all of the money I made in those five years. (Turns out Quality Control in the US makes about as much money as a Digital Arts oriented career in the non-profit sector. Think about that the next time you eat food that was made in a factory.)

  12. Pixel
    February 27, 2012, 11:14 pm

    Bravo!

  13. Wonder Bunder
    February 27, 2012, 11:15 pm

    Outstanding. I’ve lost faith in our court system quite a few years ago, but it’s good to know that justice is still served from time to time.

  14. HRK
    February 27, 2012, 11:39 pm

    I’m pro-BDS only on goods made in the settlements, so perhaps I’m not as pro-BDS as some people on this site. But I do think this ruling is good news for all of us. The Olympia Food Co-op certainly has the right to decide what products it wants to sell on its own shelves. This is a victory for freedom and against tyranny.

    • Chaos4700
      February 28, 2012, 12:05 am

      I still consider your position solidly pro-BDS. The problem, of course, is that Israel intentionally labels all of their products as “from Israel,” even when they are made in the West Bank (and often, made with plundered raw materials from the vicinity). So while it’s understandable to want to only boycott settlement goods, the only way to actively do that is to boycott all goods labelled as from Israel. Because any of those goods could actually be settlement products. As I understand (and someone more authoritative like seafoid or Shmuel or MHughes may have to clarify this) that is a major point of contention in Europe, that Israel is intentionally deceptive.

      • Shmuel
        February 28, 2012, 2:25 am

        As I understand … that is a major point of contention in Europe, that Israel is intentionally deceptive.

        Yes, it is. It is also one of the focuses of the StopAgrexco campaign.

        http://stopagrexcoitalia.org/ (Italian, with some English)

    • Philip Munger
      February 28, 2012, 12:42 am

      I’m pro-BDS only on goods made in the settlements, so perhaps I’m not as pro-BDS as some people on this site.

      That was my position for a long time. What got me to take a more activist position was a realization that the Israeli government and hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens treat all of it as theirs, except perhaps Gaza. So, if they have erased the Green Line, my position on BDS should do the same.

    • Shmuel
      February 28, 2012, 2:37 am

      HRK,

      As Chaos points out, it is often difficult (intentionally so) to tell what is made in Israel and what is made in the OPT – all the more so since the enactment of the Israeli anti-boycott law.

      Another thing to consider is that policy is made by the (democratically-elected) Israeli government, not the settlers. I have participated in many country boycotts (e.g. South Africa, Turkey, China, France), and cannot recall a boycott limited to products from a particular area – whether Tibet or Turkish Kurdistan or “whites only” areas of South Africa.

      • Citizen
        February 28, 2012, 11:33 am

        So, I don’t think my country, the USA, limits its boycotts, say against Iran or Cuba… it’s history is rather, boycotting entire countries.

  15. anonymouscomments
    February 28, 2012, 12:20 am

    great decision. but i’ve always been troubled by the US laws against boycott, *specifically* concerning israel-
    http://www.bis.doc.gov/complianceandenforcement/antiboycottcompliance.htm

    i am not that well versed in the law…. but does anyone know if BDS might in time run into these existing US laws? on my reading it seems like anyone trying to boycott israel, especially corporations/businesses, are exposed to some SERIOUS ramifications on the federal level.

    • Light
      February 28, 2012, 9:04 am

      No. That law does not apply here. The anti boycott law applies to companies that export from the US. It prohibits them from certifying that they boycott Israel in order to export to certain Arab countries.

  16. Shingo
    February 28, 2012, 12:51 am

    Not bad for a cult movement hey?

    I hope this sets a fecal precedent, though I expect Dershowitz will get involved if the implications were that far reaching.

  17. Annie Robbins
    February 28, 2012, 6:09 am

    Washington State’s Anti-SLAPP statute was enacted in 2010 to deter such lawsuits.

    this is interesting. i didn’t realize it the anti slapp stature was enacted the same year as the lawsuit. and bruce johnson , an attorney for the defendants, was also a drafter of the anti-SLAPP law.

    i wonder what month in 2010 the statue was drafted. was it drafted before the lawsuit was filed but after the plaintiffs threatened to sue? or was it merely a coincidence the co-op became the first defendants in washington state to test the new law.

    either way, GREAT NEWS.

  18. Linda J
    February 28, 2012, 11:08 am
  19. Citizen
    February 28, 2012, 11:49 am

    JTA covers this story matter-of-factly.
    http://www.jta.org/news/article/2012/02/28/3091881/anti-boycott-lawsuit-against-food-co-op-declared-illegal

    I think it’s a great win for free speech and Justice.

  20. Denis
    February 28, 2012, 10:30 pm

    ” The plaintiffs could be ordered to pay $10,000 to each of the collective members and cover legal fees.”

    Allison errs here in two important respects.

    First, there is no “could” about it. The statute says the penalty and fees “shall” be awarded. That means the judge has no discretion.

    Second, as noted repeatedly above, only the named defendants get the $10,000 grand each, not everyone in the OFC. But still, since there were 16 defendants and 5 plaintiffs, that comes to $32,000 per plaintiff. Ouch!! As LogoPhere says, maybe that’s the reason it’s called a SLAPP suit!!
    http://something-stinks.com/WordPress/

    The plaintiffs are Kent Davis, Linda Davis, Susan Trinin, Jeffery Trinin, and Susan Mayer — “DDT-5.”

    Their lawyer is Avi Lipman.

    I think it’s important to identify these people instead of just referring to “the plaintiffs.” The point is they tired to wreak as much financial damage as possible with their SLAPP nonsense by naming past and present board members when all that was needed was one representative defendant.

    Now they are going to reap the law’s wrath for their maleficent scorched-earth approach to SLAPP suits.

    Good. This is what you get when you shill for Israel in its attempts to victimize US citizens for supporting BSD, which is their right under the 1st Amendment. The last thing the US needs is Israel coming in and taking over the Constitution the way it has taken over Congress.

    “Free speech rocks!” — Oprah Winfrey.

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