Olympia Food Co-op fights back against Israel-backed anti-boycott lawsuit

The Olympia Food Co-op (OFC) is fighting back against an Israel-backed lawsuit aimed at forcing it to end its boycott of Israeli goods.

Lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, acting on behalf of the OFC, today filed a motion to dismiss the suit on the grounds that it violates a Washington state law to prevent use of the courts to silence free speech and public participation.

In September, The Electronic Intifada first revealed the plan by StandWithUs, a pro-Israel group, in consultation with the Israeli Consul-General in San Francisco, for five individuals to bring the lawsuit against the OFC.

The grocery cooperative located in Olympia, Washington, made international headlines in July 2010 when it decided to ban Israeli goods from its shelves in solidarity with the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel.

An attempt to silence Co-op’s “principled stand”

A press release from CCR stated:

“We hope the court will strike down this effort to silence the Co-op’s principled stand on Israel’s human rights violations,” said Maria LaHood, Senior Staff Attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Allegations that the Co-op Board acted beyond its power are a thinly-veiled attempt to stop concerned citizens from using a nonviolent and historical tool for social change.”

Bruce E.H. Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, the author of the law that protects against abusive lawsuits, said:

“Our nation was born in the middle of a boycott of British goods, and boycotts have played an important role over the centuries in our system of freedom of expression, whether the subject is segregation on the Montgomery municipal bus system, lettuce picked by non-union labor, or apartheid in South Africa.”

Yet, the StandWithUs and Israeli-government-backed lawsuit against the Olympia Food Co-op is part of a nationwide strategy by pro-Israel groups to use lawfare to try to fight BDS and silence criticism of Israel.

The Electronic Intifada cited in legal motion

The OFC’s motion to strike the lawsuit against it cites The Electronic Intifada’s original report as part of the evidence that the individual plaintiffs in the case were effectively only a front for the real party behind the effort: StandWithUs.

The same Electronic Intifada report also uncovered plans by StandWithUs to file a federal civil rights complaint against Evergreen State College, the alma mater of Rachel Corrie, in an attempt to suppress campus Palestine solidarity activism.

Similar complaints have been filed against the University of California-Santa Cruz, and Columbia University, as part of a strategy masterminded by pro-Israel activist and former US government official Kenneth Marcus.

The Center for Constitutional Rights has set up a case page with the motion, all other key documents and background which will be updated as the matter progresses through the courts.