Right to boycott upheld
The report of the decision this week of the Washington State Court of Appeals is followed by an article from 2010 on Olympia Food Co-op’s original decision to stop stocking Israeli goods.
The 2013 AGM of the Olympia Food Co-op. The members of staff who brought the lawsuit had not tried to oppose the policy of boycott at the Co-op’s meetings because they knew they would not win a majority.
By Center for Constitutional Rights
April 7, 2014
Seattle – 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.
“Those who would try to intimidate concerned citizens speaking out on behalf of Palestinian human rights should take note,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Maria LaHood. “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.”
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 Center for Constitutional Rights is counsel on the case with CCR cooperating counsel Barbara Harvey from Detroit, Michigan, and Steven Goldberg from Portland, Oregon, along with Seattle attorneys Bruce E.H. Johnson, Angela Galloway, and Devin Smith of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. For more information about Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, visit http://www.dwt.com/.
The Olympia Food Co-op is a member-based, not-for-profit, natural foods grocery store with two locations in Olympia, WA. The Olympia Food Co-op has provided healthy, organic and local food to the Olympia area since 1977, with an emphasis on promoting social and environmental responsibility. The stores are collectively managed and largely volunteer-run. Visit www.olympiafood.coop
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.
July 23, 2010
In a move that caused an uproar locally and internationally this week, the Olympia Food Co-op has removed all Israeli products from its shelves. The boycott is aimed, the co-op says, at compelling Israel to respect Palestinian rights.
After fielding member requests for two years to boycott products made in Israel, the board voted on July 15 to do just that. Nine of the co-op board’s 10 members approved the measure.
Co-op staff representative to the board, Harry Levine, has said that not all co-op staff members support the decision.
According to a statement released by the co-op’s board, “The Israeli products boycott is part of a nonviolent international grassroots campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions to compel Israel to follow international law and respect Palestinian human rights.”
Staff member welcoming co-op members to AGM
The co-op has taken part in other boycotts in its 33-year history. It has also targeted products from Norway, China, and Colorado, voicing objections to whaling, human rights violations, and anti-gay legislation, respectively.
Posts to the co-op’s online forum show a divided membership and community.
One member, posting as “MrsNakba” writes: “When a coop becomes a political tool for those who want to commandeer it for ideological reasons, it will no longer be able to serve the entire community. Long term members who do not want to be associated with the boycott’s message will have no choice but to resign from the coop and patronize other markets.”
Poster “frizzbee” writes: “I’m a longtime Jewish working member and I’m so proud of the coop’s decision to finally begin to boycott Israeli products.”
Another member, posting under the name “the L word” writes: “As an almost 30-year member of the Oly Co-op, I am appalled not only by this boycott, but by the way it was slid through without member notification or time to comment.”
Poster “me” writes: “I regretfully support the boycott because we need things to change immediately. I am jewish and I believe that Jews are as prepared as any other community to face their limitations and grow from what they learn.”
Activist Rachel Corrie, born and raised in Olympia, was killed seven years ago in Gaza when a bulldozer crushed her as she tried to stand in the way of demolition of a Palestinian house.
Notes and links
Anti-BDS group takes food co-op to court,includes quotation from the plaintiffs, “If you do what we demand, this situation may be resolved amicably. If not this process will become considerably more complicated, burdensome, and expensive than it has been already”. This is a clear example of a SLAPP – a strategic lawsuit against public participation, when a plaintiff brings a lawsuit in order to burden a body with the costs and effort of fighting the lawsuit, thus inhibiting their right to free speech.
This posting also gives links to the role of StandWithUs and the Israeli consul general for the Pacific north west, in advising the plaintiffs.
Bid to ban boycott by food co-op slapped down in court, February 2012, report of ruling by Washington state court that the lawsuit was a SLAPP. This is the decision the plaintiffs were appea;ing against. This posting includes information onf who the plaintiffs are.