Washington State Court Of Appeals Upholds BDS

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Appeals Court Affirms Dismissal of 8-year Lawsuit Over Israel Boycott

Case Dismissed Against Former Board Members of Olympia Food Co-op

February 20, 2020, Olympia, WA – A Washington appeals court has upheld a ruling that dismissed a lawsuit against former board members of the Olympia Food Co-op for the co-op’s decision to boycott Israeli goods. The ruling came yesterday in a case that was originally filed in 2011 by five co-op members, purporting to act on behalf of the co-op and seeking to block the boycott and collect monetary damages against the board members. The case was dismissed five months later as a SLAPP, or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, but reinstated when Washington’s anti-SLAPP statute was struck down. The ruling affirmed today dismissed the case a second time.

“As a co-defendant, I am pleased, but not surprised, that the courts have once again found in our favor. When the plaintiffs first threatened to sue us, they promised a nuisance lawsuit, and they have delivered. It is well past time to end this abuse of the legal system by ending this baseless suit,” said defendant Grace Cox.

The boycott was adopted by the Olympia Food Co-op in 2010 as part of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against violations of international law and the denial of Palestinian human rights by Israel. Five of the 22,000 Co-op members, two of whom later dropped out of the lawsuit, sued sixteen board members, those who had made the decision to boycott and the board members who were elected after the boycott. Yesterday, the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of the case, deferring to the business judgment of the board members, given that they had the authority to adopt the boycott and because there was no evidence of bad faith.

“In the face of widespread assault, the right to advocate for Palestinian freedom, including via the time-honored tradition of boycotts for social change, has again been vindicated.  This victory demonstrates that although the fight can be long, it’s necessary in order to achieve justice,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood.

Discovery in the case revealed emails between the plaintiffs celebrating the news from StandWithUs that the lawsuit had successfully discouraged other co-ops from boycotting Israeli goods.  StandWithUs, one of many groups trying to suppress the growing U.S. movement for Palestinian freedom, took credit for filing the case, stating that it was a byproduct of the partnership between StandWithUs and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“The Court of Appeals properly deferred to the business judgment of the Co-op board in making their boycott decision, which is a fundamental principle of governance that applies to every nonprofit corporation. It’s unfortunate that the plaintiffs and their funders have dragged these Co-op board members through 8-1/2 years of unnecessary litigation,” said Bruce E.H. Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

Lawyers say the lawsuit is part of a broad and growing pattern of suppressing activism in support of Palestinian rights, a phenomenon that the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal have documented and called the “Palestine Exception” to free speech. The organizations report the widespread use of administrative disciplinary actions, harassment, firings, legislative attacks, false accusations of terrorism and antisemitism, and baseless legal complaints. Palestine Legal has documented 1,247 incidents of suppression targeting speech supportive of Palestinian rights between 2014 and 2018.

Read yesterday’s ruling here.

For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.