Lawsuit Intends to Thwart Co-op BDS Victory

 credit: jason taellious

credit: jason taellious

PSLS and Allies Highlight Role of Israel Groups in Olympia Food Co-op Lawsuit, Urge WA Court to Uphold Dismissal

On Friday, December 5, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support (PSLS), together with Jewish Voice for Peace, the National Lawyers Guild, American Muslims for Palestine and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, through their local Washington State counsel Neil Fox, submitted an Amicus Brief to the Washington Supreme Court asking it to uphold lower court decisions dismissing a lawsuit against Olympia Food Co-op board members for passing a boycott of Israeli goods.

The organizations submitted the Brief in order to illuminate for the Court the evidence suggesting that the intent behind the lawsuit was to thwart an important Boycott Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) victory, and was part and parcel of a coordinated and concerted effort to undermine advocacy for Palestinian rights in the US.

The lawsuit was brought in 2011 by 5 Co-op members against 16 individual Co-op Board members because they were displeased with the Co-op’s decision to boycott Israeli goods. The lawsuit alleged procedural violations in the Board’s decision making process, despite overwhelming evidence that the Board followed its procedures and was within its powers to pass the boycott resolution. The Center for Constitutional Rights, with co-counsel filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the basis that it was a SLAPP suit – a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation – that was intended to squelch protected First Amendment activities.

The lower court ruled in favor of the anti-SLAPP motion, affirming that the lawsuit intended to undermine public engagement on a matter of public concern – the human rights boycott against Israel. The defendants were awarded attorneys’ fees and statutory damages of $160,000. The Washington Court of Appeals affirmed this decision.

The Plaintiffs, however, appealed to the WA Supreme Court, which is now considering whether the Anti-SLAPP statute was properly applied, and whether the statute itself is constitutional.

The Amicus Brief filed by PSLS and others provides factual background about the forces behind the case, which supports the contention that the lawsuit was filed not based on meritorious grounds challenging Board procedures, but as part of a larger effort to intimidate and silence advocacy for Palestinian rights.

In particular, the brief highlights the role of StandWithUs (SWU), a far-right Israel advocacy organization, and the Israeli government, in apparently initiating and supporting the lawsuit. It provides information about how SWU and other Israel advocacy groups have sought, in many other circumstances, through smear campaigns, physical violence, and legal avenues, to similarly frustrate the efforts of advocates for Palestinian rights to engage in BDS campaigns and other means of effecting change on Israel/Palestine in the US.

The brief states, in supporting the application of the Anti-SLAPP law to dismiss the lawsuit:

The effect of legal and other efforts to silence those who speak out in favor of Palestinian rights cannot be understated. Innumerable individuals and groups, like Respondents, have been subjected to prolonged and relentless legal campaigns, public smear campaigns, and even criminal prosecutions that distract from the human rights issues to which they peacefully and lawfully bring attention, deplete emotional and other resources, and have a palpable chilling effect upon those wishing to engage in advocacy for Palestinian rights. Anti-SLAPP statutes are one of the few mechanisms that exist to mitigate the burdensome effects of litigation aimed squarely at thwarting lawful First Amendment activities.

Oral arguments will take place on January 20, 2015. For more information on the case, see CCR’s case page.

Click here to see the Amicus Brief.