Anti-boycott group forced to pay $160,000 in damages to Olympia Food Co-op board members

Following today’s hearing in Olympia, Washington, of a lawsuit brought on by anti-Palestinian, anti-boycott individuals — working with Israel lobby group StandWithUS — the judge in the case ruled that the 16 defendants (board members of the Olympia Food Co-op), must be awarded $10,000 each in damages.

Almost exactly two years ago, the Olympia Food Co-op became the first grocery store in the US to de-shelve Israeli products as part of the Board’s committment to social justice and human rights. Since then, anti-boycott individuals and groups have relentlessly pursued legal options and outright intimidation of board members in an effort to force the store to rescind its decision to support the Palestinian-led movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions

As The Electronic Intifada reported in February, the Thurston County Superior Court already threw out the lawsuit against the Co-op Board members. Judge Thomas McPhee ruled that the lawsuit, brought by opponents of the boycott, violated a Washington State law designed to prevent abusive lawsuits aimed at suppressing lawful public participation. The court said it would award the defendants attorneys’ fees, costs, and levy sanctions against the plaintiffs.

While the lawsuit was brought by several individuals against present and former members of the Olympia Food Co-op Board, it was planned in collusion with StandWithUs, a national anti-Palestinian organization, working with the Israeli government, an Electronic Intifada investigation revealed last September.

In a press release several days ago (before today’s hearing), activists with Olympia BDS stated that the plaintiffs in the case were ”continuing their attempts to punish the Co-op for its historic stance for Palestinian human rights.”

However, it’s now been proven that their attempts to reverse the Co-op’s boycott policy have been finally — and expensively — thwarted by state law. 

The Olympian reported today on the hearing:

A group of five Olympia Food Co-op members who had sued to overturn the store’s boycott of Israeli goods must pay $160,000 in damages as a result of a judge’s prior ruling that the lawsuit was an illegal “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” or SLAPP.

SLAPPs are defined as nuisance lawsuits that are designed to stifle free speech and create onerous legal costs for those who choose to exercise their free speech rights. SLAPPs are illegal under a state law that the defendants’ attorney, Bruce Johnson and another staff attorney at Davis Wright Tremaine helped draft.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee ruled Thursday on the issue of damages that each of the 16 defendants are entitled to under Washington’s anti-SLAPP statute. He ruled that each of the 16 defendants are entitled to $10,000 each.

Olympia Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement member Andrew Meyer said Thursday that McPhee’s award recognizes that the Olympia Co-op acted within its rights to boycott Israeli goods until Israel secures “equal, civil and human rights for Palestinians.”

… The plaintiffs who had brought the lawsuit seeking to overturn the co-op’s boycott had argued that the co-op’s board acted outside of its authority when it enacted the boycott. In February, McPhee rejected that argument, and additionally ruled that the plaintiffs’ lawsuit was a SLAPP.

[Attorney Bob Sulkin, who represented the plaintiffs] had argued during Thursday’s hearing that the food co-op itself was responsible for paying for damages under Washington’s SLAPP statue. Sulkin said that because the plaintiffs who brought the suit are in essence “shareholders” in the “corporation” knows as the co-op, the co-op itself and not the individual plaintiffs should be responsible for damages.

“We are nominal parties, nominal,” Sulkin said in court Thursday. “The corporation is the real party and interest here.”

McPhee rejected Sulkin’s argument. “I don’t find that argument persuasive,” he said. McPhee added that he is bound by the SLAPP statute enacted by the Legislature that states that each defendant in a SLAPP statute is entitled to a $10,000 award.

… Israeli products that were removed from the co-op’s two stores, one in East Olympia and the other on Olympia’s West Side, include gluten-free crackers, ice cream cones and a moisturizing cream.





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I read the same thing yesterday at A very good and very informed site. Another one which is of great importance: If you want to see what is done to remember and not only remember the Naqba, if you want serious investigation of where villages used to be and active Palestinians working with active Israelis, it is a site to check out. I sound like it is a fun trip. It isn't. But I just read a thing or two there and still am amazed at what also can transpire and is existing and trying to grow amidst apathetic Israeli society.

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).