Lawsuit filed against Olympia Food Co-op, seeks to force end to Israel boycott

A group of pro-Israel activists has filed a lawsuit against the Olympia Food Co-op (OFC) to try to force it to end its boycott of Israeli goods.

On 6 September, The Electronic Intifada exclusively revealed that the activists who had threatened the lawsuit were working in close collaboration with StandWithUs, a national pro-Israel organization, and that their plans had been discussed in advance with an Israeli government official.

When The Electronic Intifada spoke to one of the activists’ attorneys, Avi Lipman on 1 September, the attorney stated that the lawsuit had yet to be filed.

A copy of the lawsuit filed with the Superior Court of Washington in Thurston County (PDF), indicates it was submitted on 2 September.

This suggests that The Electronic Intifada’s investigation may have prompted the pro-Israel activists to try to gain the initiative before The Electronic Intifada’s story revealed the facts behind the anti-boycott effort, including the connection to Israeli officials.

Seeking an end to the boycott and damages

According to The Olympian newspaper:

The suit states that the co-op’s rules require the board to make decisions by consensus, and that not all members had agreed to the boycott. It also claims that the proposed boycott was not “nationally recognized.”

The lawsuit itself asks the court to force OFC to end the boycott of Israeli goods and impose unspecificed financial damages. The complaint alleges that if the court fails to act the pro-Israel activists:

will continue to sustain irreparable injury insofar as the Israel Boycott and Divestment policies are fractuaring the OFC community; sowing division and mistrust among OFC members, staff members and Board members, alienating numerous OFC members and staff members from OFC and the Board and causing numerous OFC members to either resign their membership or otherwise cease shopping at OFC.

Broader attack on free speech and academic freedom on campus

In its 6 September article, The Electronic Intifada also revealed that StandWithUs, also with the advance knowledge of the Israeli government, is planning a civil rights complaint against Evergreen State College, where students had voted in favor of divesting the school’s assets from companies that profit from Israeli occupation.

The US federal government is already investigating a similar civil rights complaint against the University of California-Santa Cruz, painting Palestine solidarity activism on campus as “anti-Semitism.”

There are now indications that using civil rights legislation to attempt to suppress campus discussion of Israeli human rights abuses may be part of a much bigger strategy, originating from Israel and the American far-right.

On 8 September, The Jerusalem Post reported:

Hundreds of US college and university presidents were set to receive warning letters on Thursday morning, instructing them of their legal obligations to prevent anti-Semitism on campus.

The letters also remind universities it is their legal duty to prevent university funds from being diverted to unlawful activities directed against the State of Israel.

The letters were being sent by an Israeli group called the Israel Law Center (Shurat HaDin). The strategy appears to be to deliberately conflate any criticism of Israel with an attack on Jews on campus:

The center hopes the legal warnings will prompt US colleges to take action against what it says is a growing problem of campus hatred.

“Jewish and Israeli students are often too intimidated to speak because they fear they will be held collectively responsible for the supposed ‘wrongdoings’ of the Jewish State of Israel,” the Law Center’s warning letter says.

Shurat HaDin has a history of “lawfare” – or using legal and official processes to achieve spurious political aims. In June, the group was revealed to be behind complaints to Greek maritime authorities in June claiming that various Gaza Freedom Flotilla vessels were not seaworthy.

“Civil rights” group funded by religious bigots and homophobes

While Shurat HaDin claims to be a “civil rights” group, Max Blumenthal discovered that “a major donor to Shurat Hadin is the homophobic far-right Pastor John Hagee.”

Hagee of course is not only homophobic but has been one of the most virulent and influential inciters of anti-Muslim hatred in the United States.

These latest developments are further evidence of the extent to which anti-Palestinian and anti-free-speech groups will go to shield Israel from public discussion and accountability.

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Comments

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Both copies of the PDF are unreadable. If a readable one can be found, I'd like to see it.

Apparently members of the co-op are saying that a court should force the board of the co-op to follow its own rules. That would be a request for an injunction. This much might be legally colorable ("reasonable for the court to entertain). Co-op could just cave-in and hold an election. SOON, before the membership changes too drastically, although an enlarged membership could result in a subsequent request for a membership-wide election. And the enlarged membership could be either pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian.

Plaintiffs seem also to be requesting money damages, but that seems quixotic since co-op members are at most inconvenienced by not being able to buy Israel products at the co-op. The city presumably has other stores that do (or could) stock these items. Plaintiffs would have to show (and how could they?) that they had been buying THIS MUCH Israeli stuff regularly, saving THIS MUCH money by using the (cheap) co-op. A hard thing to demonstrate.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.