Yesterday, the Olympia Food Coop finally announced its legal representation and strategy regarding the lawsuit filed against it by Stand With Us in collaboration with the State of Israel and its Pacific NW consul, Akiva Tor. Though the suit argued that the organization violated its bylaws in approving a BDS measure which excluded nine Israeli products from its shelves, the measure was meant to intimidate all U.S. businesses which attempt to pursue such policies.
The Food Coop, represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights and local counsel, Davis Wright Tremaine, have filed an Anti-SLAPP motion arguing that the lawsuit is a frivolous measure designed to impede the organization’s right to take a position on an important political issue of the day, that is also directly to its business (that is, refusing to carry Israeli food products as an expression of opposition to Israeli Occupation):
“We hope the court will strike down this effort to silence the Co-op’s principled stand on Israel’s human rights violations,” said Maria LaHood, Senior Staff Attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Allegations that the Co-op Board acted beyond its power are a thinly-veiled attempt to stop concerned citizens from using a nonviolent and historical tool for social change.”
The group’s local counsel also made a statement defending the Coop board:
“This lawsuit, which seeks to penalize local citizens for exercising their rights as Board members to express views on Israel and the problems in the Middle East, presents a fundamental First Amendment issue,” said Bruce E.H. Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, who drafted Washington State’s Anti-SLAPP law. “Our nation was born in the middle of a boycott of British goods, and boycotts have played an important role over the centuries in our system of freedom of expression, whether the subject is segregation on the Montgomery municipal bus system, lettuce picked by non-union labor, or apartheid in South Africa,” he added.
Until now, the Food Coop has been beset with false reporting by JTNews regarding the nature of the lawsuit and the figures pursuing it. My expectation is that now, it will be able to vigorously defend and explain itself to the world.
I’ve reported here previously that Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister acknowledged in an Israeli TV interview that his government was directly supporting such anti-BDS campaigns, implying the MFA was either directly funding the lawsuits or
The lawyer’s representing the Food Coop have released public statement (a synopsis of the case is here). Olympia BDS has also published its own press release.
As someone similarly harassed by a libel suit, my attorneys attempted to use the California anti-SLAPP provision to strike that suit. Our initially successful efforts were overturned by the Court of Appeal and we eventually won our case through a long, complicated and expensive (to my law firm, which represented me pro bono) trial. My hope is that the current case can be disposed of without such waste of effort, energy and resources. Clearly, the Israeli government and its SWU handmaidens seek to use the tools of lawfare to tie up their opponents in useless court procedures as punishment for speaking their minds on a matter of public import.
Israel is perhaps so accustomed to “infringing on rights” that its long arm reaches all the way to Olympia in an attempt to silence free speech for Americans! Next, the US Congress will pass a law that American retailers must carry Israeli products. I’d bet that some brown-nosing congressman is already considering such legislation. Americans should be outraged with this foreign tinkering and dickering with American freedoms.
Thanks so much for presenting this to us. Reading the legal materials suggests to me an easy “win” for the co-op board if the court follow the law asserted in the brief.
The $10,000 fine payable to each defendant (should the defendants prevail on the SLAPP motion) should make the anti-BDS folks think twice about such suits, at least in Washington state.
Hugo S. Cunningham says
The common understanding of a SLAPP lawsuit is one to silence *speech*. Are the anti-BDS people suing the cooperative’s officers for *advocating* BDS (ie SLAPP), or for actually carrying it out (a business dispute)?
If the latter, it may be a frivolous lawsuit (depending on the bylaws of the cooperative, and Washington State law on cooperative governance), but not a SLAPP.
–Hugo S. Cunningham
Richard Silverstein says
The anti BDS suit is meant to silence the speech of the coop & its members regarding a major political issue of concern to citizens of the U.S.
Hugo S. Cunningham says
As I read this article
and this one
the suit is not against speaking out in favor of a boycott, but rather for actually carrying out the boycott.
The second article claims that the coop’s bylaws require “consensus” for controversial political acts, rather than a 51% majority vote. Even if said claims are false, they represent a business dispute rather than an attack on *speech*.
Or would you protect every act as “symbolic speech,” including a brick through the window?
Presumably, however, there is a mechanism to change the coop’s bylaws so that decisions can be made by simple majority vote. It might be necessary to buy out minority voters for a value-based rather than hold-up-for-ransom-based price.
Richard Silverstein says
You’re quoting Shurat HaDin as a legal authority?? Wonder of wonders! That is about as bogus a source as anyone could offer & betrays yr own right wing political commitments.
You’re wrong. The suit claims that the coop board violated proper procedures in approving the boycott. The suit has nothing on the surface to do with actually carrrying out the boycott, though that is its underlying purpose.
The plaintiffs are presenting their claim as one solely regarding the rules by which the coop is run. But that’s not the case at all & you’re simply cheerleading the plaintiffs, which is pathetic. The coop has every right to decide to institute a boycott and followed its own rules in doing so. Either the anti SLAPP will end the suit or a trial will do so & this laughingstock of a lawsuit will be thrown out of court & yr arguments along with ’em.