US food co-op fights back against boycott opposition

Olympia Food Co-op files motion to strike lawsuit brought against them by members who objected to decision to initiate boycott of Israeli goods.

Boycott Israel 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Boycott Israel 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – A food co-op board of directors Tuesday filed a motion in Washington state to strike a lawsuit brought against them by five members who objected to the co-op’s decision to initiate a boycott of Israeli goods.
In 2010, the Olympia Food Co-op board passed a resolution to boycott Israeli goods, and then became the first grocery store in the United States to officially boycott them. The co-op is a member-based, not-for-profit, natural food grocery store with two locations in Olympia, Washington.
Olympia is the hometown of Rachel Corrie, a pro-Palestinian activist killed by an IDF bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003 when she was in front of a home about to be demolished.
Five candidates endorsed by Olympia Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions were elected to the co-op’s board, which voted to boycott Israeli products as a way to “compel Israel to follow international law and respect Palestinian human rights,” according to a statement the board released.
Lawyers for the Olympia Food Coop Board of Directors filed a motion to strike the lawsuit, saying the suit was an attempt to curtail the directors’ public statements on an issue of public policy.
“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 lawyer 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.”
“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 Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, who drafted Washington’s anti- SLAPP. “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.”
The lawsuit seeks to prevent enforcement of the boycott policy and to collect monetary damages against the 16 past and current board members. The suit claims the board members acted beyond the scope of their authority and breached their fiduciary duties.
The special motion to strike requires parties who bring a lawsuit to demonstrate that it is not a strategic litigation against public participation — SLAPP — suit targeting constitutionally- protected free speech.
If the motion to strike is successful, Washington’s anti-SLAPP statute, enacted in 2010 to deter such lawsuits, requires plaintiffs to pay lawyers’ fees, costs, and a $10,000 penalty for each defendant.