Olympia Co-op lawfare case backfires as court fines anti-boycott plaintiffs

Israel is busily attempting to disrupt the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in support of Palestinian liberation and self-determination.

Anne Paq The Electronic Intifada

Anti-boycott campaigners in Washington state were dealt a significant — and expensive — court defeat yesterday.

The Washington State Court of Appeals upheld a 2012 ruling that affirmed the dismissal of a frivolous lawsuit against board members of the Olympia Food Co-op for their 2011 decision to boycott Israeli goods and products. The co-op was the first US grocery store to adopt and implement a consumer boycott of Israeli goods.

The lawsuit, filed by individuals in collusion with national anti-Palestinian organization StandWithUs, attempted to force co-op board members into rescinding their decision to implement the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

They are now mandated to pay $160,000 in statutory damages — $10,000 to each of the 16 co-op board members — as well as other legal fees.

“Those who would try to intimidate concerned citizens speaking out on behalf of Palestinian human rights should take note,” said Maria LaHood, senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, in a press release.

“The law and history are on the side of peaceful boycotts for social change, and today’s ruling reaffirms that this time-honored tradition is protected by the First Amendment. Instead of trying to suppress speech calling for Palestinian human rights, opponents should address such speech on the merits,” she added.   

In the 7 April press release, the Center for Constitutional Rights states:

Today, the Washington State Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by five members of the Olympia Food Co-op against current and former members of the Co-op’s Board of Directors for their decision to boycott Israeli goods. The court held that the lawsuit was a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP, and that participation in the boycott is protected by the First Amendment. The court also affirmed $160,000 in statutory damages, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs for the board members, and awarded attorneys’ fees for the appeal. The lawsuit is part of a broader pattern of targeting pro-Palestinian activists in the United States, particularly in legislatures and across college campuses.

… The lawsuit was filed in 2011 and sought both monetary damages and to end the Co-op’s boycott of Israeli goods, claiming that the defendants had acted beyond the scope of their authority and breached their fiduciary duties as board members. The boycott is part of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against violations of international law and the denial of Palestinian human rights by Israel.

Said Bruce Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, “I’m delighted that this new state law, which I drafted and the legislature adopted in 2010, has protected the free speech rights of the Olympia Food Co-op from a retaliatory lawsuit targeting board members because of their views on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  This is an excellent decision reaffirming the state’s anti-SLAPP law, which protects the rights of all Washington citizens against meritless lawsuits penalizing public discussion.”

In today’s ruling, the Court of Appeals also upheld the constitutionality of Washington’s anti-SLAPP statute, which the plaintiffs had challenged.

“We are thrilled to hear that, as 16 individual co-defendants, our right to freedom of speech has been upheld. We are also excited that Washington’s anti-SLAPP law has been upheld. Boycotts are a longstanding form of non-violent political expression; using the Court system to attempt to silence our right of expression clearly qualifies as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” said Grace Cox, co-defendant and Co-op staff member.

The case is Davis, et al., v. Cox, et al.

The court ruling comes as efforts by Israel lobby organizations to disrupt the global boycott movement continue to be characterized by failure, embarrassment and incompetence.


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).