A near decade-long legal battle over the Olympia Food Co-op’s decision to boycott Israeli goods has finally been put to rest.
Opponents of Palestinian rights, working in coordination with Israel, lost.On 20 February, a Washington state appeals court upheld a 2018 ruling that dismissed a lawsuit against former board members of the Co-op.
In 2010, the Olympia Food Co-op became the first grocery store in the US to remove Israeli goods from its shelves as part of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign for Palestinian rights.
“As a co-defendant, I am pleased, but not surprised, that the courts have once again found in our favor,” said Grace Cox, a former Co-op board member.
Board members like Cox, who supported a measure to ban Israeli products from the store’s shelves, were put through years of litigation by several former Co-op members who worked closely with the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs.
The right-wing Israel lobby group helped secretly plan the lawsuit in coordination with Israeli government officials.
The plaintiffs sought to block the store’s boycott and secure monetary damages against board members who voted in favor of the measure.
A judge initially 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, an appeals court 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 2017, co-op board members filed a motion to finally dismiss the lawsuit, which the court did in March 2018.
“When the plaintiffs first threatened to sue us, they promised a nuisance lawsuit, and they have delivered. It is well past time to end this abuse of the legal system by ending this baseless suit,” Cox stated last week.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented the defendants during the entire legal battle, says that during the process of uncovering evidence, emails were revealed between the plaintiffs “celebrating the news from StandWithUs that the lawsuit had successfully discouraged other co-ops from boycotting Israeli goods.”
The Israel advocacy group “took credit for filing the case, stating that it was a byproduct of the partnership between StandWithUs and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” CCR notes.
“The Court of Appeals properly deferred to the business judgment of the Co-op board in making their boycott decision, which is a fundamental principle of governance that applies to every nonprofit corporation,” said Bruce E.H. Johnson, an attorney who also represented co-op board members.
“In the face of widespread assault, the right to advocate for Palestinian freedom, including via the time-honored tradition of boycotts for social change, has again been vindicated,” said Maria LaHood, CCR’s deputy legal director.
“This victory demonstrates that although the fight can be long, it’s necessary in order to achieve justice,” she added.