A Washington State superior court judge dismissed a case filed against the Olympia Food Coop for its support of the BDS movement. The case was concocted by then-StandWithUs boss, Rob Jacobs (who’s since gone on to greater ‘glory’ as the CEO of the Minneapolis Jewish federation). He enlisted Rob Sulkin to argue the case (Rob’s wife was on the SWU board) that the Food Coop’s vote to endorse BDS and remove nine Israeli products from its shelves, contravened the market’s own rules. Sulkin, some of you may recall, was then-Mayor Ed Murray’s attorney as he faced multiple charges of preying on homeless boys sexually. Murray was a major pro-Israel figure in Seattle and Sulkin, no doubt, offered his services because of Murray’s fealty to the pro-Israel cause.
When I first wrote about this case, I was interviewed by an Israeli TV news show. The presenter approached then deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon who told him explicitly that the Israeli government was directly involved with this case. It would be easy to infer from his comments that the government may even have funded the legal costs of the case. The then-Israeli consul general, Akiva Tor, was deeply involved in it as well.
The Coop was represented jointly by Davis Wright’s senior partner, Bruce Johnson and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Here is part of the statement the Center released after the victory:
Lawyers say the lawsuit is part of a broad and growing pattern of suppressing activism in support of Palestinian rights, a phenomenon that CCR and Palestine Legal have documented and called the “Palestine Exception” to free speech. CCR and Palestine Legal report the widespread use of administrative disciplinary actions, harassment, firings, legislative attacks, false accusations of terrorism and antisemitism, and baseless legal complaints. Between 2014 and 2016, Palestine Legal responded to 650 such incidents of suppression targeting speech supportive of Palestinian rights.
“We are thrilled to be found in favor of for a second time on this frivolous lawsuit. We are proud of our attorney team, and proud of our community for supporting us, and we are grateful for the outpouring of solidarity we’ve received from around the world,” said defendant Grace Cox. “Taking a stand for economic and social justice is at the heart of the co-op’s mission. Given Israel’s ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights, we would have failed in this mission had we not approved a boycott.”
Initially, the Coop won an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss the lawsuit. But when Sulkin appealed to the State Supreme Court, that body ruled that the anti-SLAPP statute itself was unconstitutional. That sent the case back to Superior Court for it to be argued. Several years went by without Sulkin and SWU taking any action to pursue the case. Finally, several months ago they put forward a summary judgment motion asking the court to declare victory in their favor.
The Coop put forward its own summary judgment motion which the judge granted last week. Now, after seven years, the Coop is out from under this legal albatross. And SWU has lost a major effort to stifle political speech in the U.S. This case should inform the current debate over Sen. Ben Cardin’s execrable anti-BDS bill before the Senate, which would level penalties against individuals or companies which respect the boycott against Israel.
A Washington State court has ruled that the Coop board’s vote in favor of BDS was wholly acceptable under Washington law. I only hope that courts throughout this country rule similarly when or if Cardin’s bill becomes law.