Legal win for BDS in Wash.

February 29, 2012

OLYMPIA, Wash.--A Superior Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit aimed at ending the boycott of products from Israel by the Olympia Food Co-op.

The Olympia Food Co-op is a nonprofit corporation formed in 1976 that provides food to members. The Co-op now operates two stores in Olympia, Wash., that serve some 22,000 members.

The Co-op has a long history of engaging in social and human rights issues and its mission statement includes the duty to do so. As a part of that mission, the Co-op has in the past initiated boycotts against China, Norway, the state of Colorado and companies such as Gardenburger, the latter for farmworker abuses.

On July 15, 2010, the Co-op board of directors passed a resolution to boycott products from Israel following a request to join the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement called for by Palestinian civil society groups. Unlike the previous boycott decisions, this one generated furious opposition from some Co-op members. The first action of the opposition was to run several candidates for the Co-op board in November 2010 in the hopes of gaining a majority that would overturn the decision. All of the candidates were soundly defeated.

Then, on May 31, 2011, the opposition sent the board a letter stating it would bring a "complicated, burdensome and expensive" legal action against the board unless the boycott was ended. On September 2, 2011, the opposition as plaintiffs filed a lawsuit seeking to prohibit the boycott from continuing.

Lawyers for the Co-op filed a motion on November 2, 2011, to dismiss the lawsuit under Washington's Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPP) law. SLAPP laws are designed to protect constitutionally guaranteed free speech from lawsuits filed for the purpose of stopping such speech. A Superior Court hearing was held on February 23, 2012, on the motion to dismiss.

Prior to the hearing, about 50 Co-op supporters rallied outside of the courthouse, and the courtroom was packed. At least one attendee was a member of Stand With Us, a U.S. pro-Israel lobbying group.

On February 27, Judge Thomas McPhee of the Thurston County Superior Court ruled that the lawsuit did fall under the SLAPP law, and that it would not be allowed to go to trial. The judge also stated that he is considering financial penalties against the plaintiffs as provided under the law.

The lawsuit was not filed as the result of any financial injury to the state of Israel. Only three products were removed from the shelves of a small local co-op following its boycott decision. The suit was an obvious attempt to thwart the growth of the BDS movement--and that attempt has, in this instance, failed.

The ruling will likely be appealed, but Co-op supporters are hopeful that Judge McPhee's ruling will ultimately prevail.

Further Reading

From the archives