Monday, February 27, 2012

Olympia Food Co-op wins it's battle for the Right to Boycott!

OFC Supporters standing outside the courtroom.  (Via TESC Divest flickr)

Today at the Thurston County Superior Court, the Olympia Food Co-op won the legal battle to continue it's boycott of Israeli goods as part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement! 16 board members of the co-op had been sued by five current and former members of the co-op who attempted to use litigation to force the board to rescind the boycott.

According to a Press Release from the Center for Constitutional Rights, which helped in the OFC's defense:

"In a court hearing last Thursday, lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Davis Wright Tremaine LLP argued that the court should grant the defendants’ Special Motion to Strike and dismiss the case because it targeted the constitutional rights of free speech and petition in connection with an issue of public concern.
“We are pleased the Court found this case to be what it is – an attempt to chill free speech on a matter of public concern.  This sends a message to those trying to silence support of Palestinian human rights to think twice before they bring a lawsuit,” said Maria LaHood, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights."

Co-op Suppoters rallying in support of OFC

Members of Olympia BDS also released a press release in response to the dismissal of the SLAPP suit:

"Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including several failed candidates for the board of directors, wrote that the coming suit was intended to hamper the Co-op’s ability to participate in the boycott of Israeli goods. The letter, dated May 31, 2011, states in part that “we will bring legal action against you,” and that the execution of the boycott would become “complicated, burdensome, and expensive.” In response, the board of directors reiterated that the proper process for overturning a boycott is a “member-initiated ballot”, and that the opponents of the boycott could put it to a vote of the membership, and Judge McPhee noted that the plaintiffs offered no evidence that they exhausted all manner of challenging boycott.

The opponents of this boycott have had every opportunity to rescind the boycott using the fair and democratic process laid out in the Co-op bylaws,” says Johan Genberg, a longtime co-op member, adding “[The plaintiffs] wanted to punish the store for speaking out for social justice, but isn’t that exactly what makes the Olympia Food Co-op unique? The store reflects the values of this community.”
Farihan Bushnaq, a Co-op member since 1983 adds “as a Palestinian refugee and a member of the Olympia Co-op I wholeheartedly support the boycott, as a way to save Israel from its own excesses, and to end the continued dehumanization of the Palestinian people under Israeli control.”"

Activists with the Palestine Freedom Project and TESC Divest! who livetweeted during the hearing were present when Judge Thomas McPhee affirmed that in his view the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement indeed constituted a "national movement," regardless of the fact that OFC was the first grocery store in the country to adopt the boycott of Israeli goods. (Electronic Intifada).

According to The Olympian, the attorney to the Plaintiff's, who may have to pay up to $10,000 SLAPP suit penalty for each of the 16 board members targeted in the suit, is looking into an appeal.

Update 7:23pm:

Associated Press report via Seattle P-I (Via the Olympia Food Co-op website)

"[Judge Thomas] McPhee ruled that plaintiffs failed to show that the board acted outside of its authority when it enacted the boycott. He also ruled that the 2010 law was constitutional. He also addressed the plaintiffs' contention in its lawsuit that the boycott was not "nationally recognized," as is required under the co-op's boycott policy.
He said that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement or BDS, which supported the boycott, "is a national movement," The Olympian reported. The group supports boycotts to compel Israel to respect Palestinian rights."

Blogger Richard Silverstein at Tikun Olam : Olympia Food Coop Wins Anti-SLAPP Motion, Court Dismisses StandWithUs Lawsuit
"In this case, the issue was whether the food coop had the right to ban nine Israeli products from its shelves in support of the globalBDS movement.  This action was taken according to coop rules which permitted the board by concensus to approve this measure. The defendants could’ve requested a vote of the. Entire membership to confirm or reject the board’s decision but refused Togo this route.  The plaintiffs ran for the coop board in the next election on a platform that opposed the board’s BDS decision and lost.
Though five coop members sued the coop itself in this case, the plaintiffs were recruited by the right-wing pro-Israel advocacy group, StandWithUs and Israel’s Northwest Consul General, Akiva Tor.  SWU and the MFA also recruited the lawyers representing the anti-BDS group.  Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, told an Israeli TV news show that the government was using such suits in order to pre-empt what he called efforts to delegitimize Israel internationally.  Thus, today’s court victory is a small, but important victory in the battle to bring Israel’s human rights abuses and illegal Occupation to a broader public audience.  It is a defeat for the Israeli government and its NGO allies who seek to sweep such issues under the rug and use lawfare tactics to battle human rights activists."

Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation posted the news.

Tuesday, February, 28th, 3:12pm
Jewish Voice for Peace hails the news :
"Jewish group hails Olympia Food Coop BDS legal victory
JVP Members play role in successful defense of lawsuit

The Coop victory will resonate far beyond Washington State because it represents a successful blow against a broader pattern of intimidation by advocates for illegal Israeli settlement expansion who use legal mechanisms and boy-who-cried-wolf definitions of anti-Semitism to try to silence free and open debate and obstruct personal choice. A few examples include a lawsuit against former President Jimmy Carter for using the word “Apartheid” in his book title about Israel ( ; lawsuits at UC Berkeley accusing the school of being anti-semitic ( ), and the use of new civil rights legislation changes to make multiple complaints of anti-Semitism ).
Jewish Voice for Peace and National Lawyer's Guild member attorney Barbara Harvey brought in the Center for Constitutional Rights, which won the case, and assisted in the defense. Further, hundreds of Jewish Voice for Peace supporters from Washington State signed an open letter in defense of the boycott. ""

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