“It’s a huge victory that’s been a long time coming,” said Maria LaHood, deputy legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is part of the legal team representing the defendants.
A state court dismissed the lawsuit filed in 2011 by five former members of the board working closely with the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs. The plaintiffs sought to block the co-op’s boycott and secure monetary damages against board members who voted in favor of the measure.
A judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2012, saying it violated a state law preventing abusive lawsuits aimed at suppressing lawful public participation, otherwise known as SLAPP suits.
Two years later, a court of appeals upheld that judge’s ruling and the plaintiffs were ordered to pay $160,000 in statutory damages – $10,000 to each of the 16 co-op board members – as well as other legal fees.
In December, current co-op board members filed a motion to finally dismiss the lawsuit, which the court did on 9 March.
The Center for Constitutional Rights filed a document with the court last week which showed that plaintiffs boasted that the lawsuit had discouraged other co-ops from implementing similar measures, while admitting they had accepted funds from StandWithUs.
StandWithUs, which has received substantial funding from the Israeli government to help push the state’s political agenda on social media, acknowledged it had partnered with Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs to bring the lawsuit forth.
The protracted court battle over the Olympia Food Co-op’s boycott of Israeli goods is part of a growing pattern of suppression of activism and speech in support of Palestinian rights, the Center for Constitutional Rights stated.
As pro-Israel organizations continue to harass BDS supporters and push anti-BDS legislation at local, state and federal levels in the US, the Washington court’s dismissal of the Olympia Food Co-op lawsuit has broad implications.
“Meritless lawsuits targeting boycotts of Israel will not be successful – not in individual cases, not in squelching the movement, and not in the annals of history,” LaHood told The Electronic Intifada.
A federal judge in Kansas recently blocked enforcement of a state law punishing BDS supporters over concerns it violates free speech protections.
The American Civil Liberties Union has meanwhile filed a suit against a similar law in Arizona, asserting that it violates the First Amendment.
LaHood said that with each court defeat handed down to those seeking to dampen Palestinian rights advocacy, the less they will resort to lawsuits and legislation.
And the more that Israel boycotts “are the subject of litigation and legislation,” LaHood added, “the more public awareness rises – both about Israel’s human rights violations as well as the bullying tactics used to punish [those] exposing them.”