Olympia, WA. A lawsuit, filed Friday in Thurston County Superior Court, aims to punish the Olympia Food Co-op for enacting a boycott of Israeli Goods. Plaintiffs, including several candidates who's recent Co-op Board of Directors campaigns failed by large margins, threaten financial harm unless the local food cooperative rescinds its boycott.
An ultimatum from the plaintiffs sent to the Co-op before the lawsuit was filed reads: “If you do what we demand, this situation may be resolved amicably . If not this process will become considerably more complicated, burdensome, and expensive than it has been already.”
Groups opposed to the boycott of Israeli goods have repeatedly refused to bring the issue to a vote of the Co-op membership - a democratic option available to any Co-op member - and have instead turned to the court system, prompting some to question the legality of bringing suit at all. Laws prohibiting "strategic lawsuits against public participation" or SLAPP suits aim to protect individuals and organizations that participate in protected speech. SLAPP suits have frequently been used as means of repressing public participation by way of legal and financial intimidation.
According to leaked documents (http://bit.ly/nUKc0G), the Northwest chapter of the international pro-Israel and anti-boycott lobby group StandWithUs and Akiva Tor, the Israeli Consul General for the Pacific Northwest, have been working closely with the plaintiffs to bring the lawsuit forward. In an interview with the online news publication The Electronic Intifada, director of StandWithUs Northwest Robert S. Jacobs acknowledged advising the plaintiffs to focus on procedure rather than substance, noting that trying to persuade the Co-op Board to reverse their decision on the basis of political and moral arguments would "probably not very successful."
The Olympian reports that five people are suing the Olympia Food Co-op over its boycott of Israeli products. According to the Olympian, the civil complaint states that the Co-op board violated policy by implementing the boycott. In other words, the plaintiffs are supposedly suing over “process.”
Some things to note:
1. Three of the five plaintiffs ran for the Olympia Food Co-op board late last year.
2. All three lost by a wide margin.
3. After they lost, they spread rumors that the reason they lost was because there was cheating in the board elections.
4. They carried this rumor over to Jon Haber’s silly blog.
5. On Dec. 16, 2010, one of the plaintiffs went to the Co-op board meeting where she tried to get one of the winning candidates disqualified.
6. This plaintiff also stated that the election was “the dirtiest election since the Bush dynasty.” She compared it to “a third world country with ancient blood feuds bubbling to the surface.” (She really said that. I took notes.)
7. This plaintiff had previously criticized the Co-op board for not “address[ing] the secret/underground national security government.”
But there’s more:
Yesterday a report was released by Electronic Initfada that connects the plaintiffs, the lawsuit, and their lawyer with the Israeli Consulate and a notorious organization called StandWithUs:
Olympia BDS, Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights (POWER), Sustainable South Sound, and Bridges Not Walls came together to create a short questionnaire for all Olympia Food Co-op Board candidates in order to provide a more in depth look at their stances on social justice and sustainability issues facing the Co-op. The four questions were:
These are the responses we got:
I got to stand and talk with Tibor and others today at the co-op for about an hour before my volunteer shift. It was an interesting conversation and good. I am glad that I got to visit.
I have some new thoughts (and would welcome those of others) on why I think it is wrong to pressure the Board to rescind the boycott.
Disclaimer: This is a rough draft (please forgive the disorganization, and incomplete thoughts, of which I am aware) but I want to get these thoughts out. And also, this represents my current thinking, which is (as is everything) subject to change.
Over two months ago the Oly Food Co-op Board of Directors decided to boycott products from Israel. The Evergreen student body similarly voted for TESC to divest from Israel earlier this year. However, unlike the decision at Evergreen, the Co-op Board decision has created a stir, not only in the community of people who love and care about the Co-op, but in larger parts of the Olympia community and beyond. In fact the decision by the much loved and humble OFC has attracted a considerable amount of international attention.
The conflict in Israel/Palestine is a big deal. For example, what is happening there has major ramifications. The US government supports the government of Israel, despite its abuses. This is a glaring example of wrong that many people around the world point to in disgust and frustration. Many people around the world are opposed to US militarism, interventionism, and policies of dominance.
However, there is a lot of disagreement about the decision—and for a lot of different reasons (and some of the reasons probably make more sense than others.) There is polarization. There is "division." And this last part is what interests me: this division. Some people have argued that the boycott decision created division—that the decision in and of itself caused division—that it was divisive. The more I think about this, the more I am inclined to listen to that argument and grant it some merit—Although it is very complicated.
It seems to me that the boycott has definitely caused hurt feelings. But in terms of where it's caused "division" it's more difficult to say. Because divisions about the conflict in Israel/Palestine already existed, and have existed for a long time.
Tuesday 31 August 2010, Olympia, Washington—Palestinian-American Ali Abunimah gave a presentation about BDS and the situation in Israel Palestine before an audience of about 120 people at the Olympia Center. Abunimah is a journalist, a co-founder of Electronic Intifada, and an author, including most recently of, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. The event was organized and hosted by Olympia BDS.
Peace talks between representatives from Israel and the Palestinian Territories are scheduled to start tomorrow (Thursday,) but Abunimah said the expectations of many people are low, because of a precedent of bad-faith negotiations. He used a metaphor of pizza pie to explain the negotiations. For example, analogous to the occupation of the West Bank would be if he were to sit down to negotiation and immediately begin by grabbing pizza and stuffing it into his mouth, and if his partner were to complain, or to try grabbing some pizza for theirself, then he would slap them and chastise them for it.
I am currently reading the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Stride Toward Freedom. The book is an account of the bus boycott of 1955-56 in Montgomery Alabama. It's a fascinating read, and I recommend it to anyone and everyone. There are some interesting parallels between the situation in the South in the 1950s and the situation today in Israel/Palestine. Some of the ideas in Dr. King's account helped me to formulate this statement to the Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors in regard to the ongoing boycott of products from Israel:
Thank you to the Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors for holding fast on the boycott of products from Israel. This boycott amounts to noncooperation with injustice. The way that the government of Israel and some Israelis are treating Palestinians is unacceptable. The decision to boycott was correct. Israel needs to change, for the good of both Palestinians and Jews. When our government is unaccountable to the interests of human rights (and even life itself,) a courageous and principled and strong stand like this of the co-op is truly awesome and inspiring—and necessary. Human rights are for everyone. Thank you again for this courageous act of noncooperation!
For all the dialogues, discussions, debates, and supposed "divisiveness" around the Olympia Food Co-op's recent boycott of Israeli goods, one party's voice has been shamefully excluded -- that of Palestinians. Judging by the extent of discourse in this community, one could reasonably assume that Palestinians have no say in the matter.
Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, is one of the most prominent Palestinian-American commentators on the Israel/Palestine conflict. He is coming to Olympia to explain why boycott is an important component for peace and justice for Palestine and Israel.
Ali Abunimah has published articles in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times, and has appeared as a commentator on CNN, MSNBC, Al-Jazeera and other television news programs.
Abunimah was born to a refugee mother from the eradicated Palestinian village of Lifta and a father from Battir in the currently occupied West Bank.
If you have been around the movement for social justice in Olympia for long, you probably know Ruth and Gar Lipow. These two have offered consistent, and consistently eloquent, nuanced, deep, and important perspectives on issues of social and economic/ecological justice. The following are their statements, preceded by a background of the BDS issue in Olympia, by Gar. Re-posted here with permission:
Thursday (Aug-12-2010) both me and my 88 year old Mother attended a forum discussing the Olympia food co-ops decision to join the B.D.S (Boycott Divest Sanctions) movement to pressure Israel to stop violating Palestinian human rights. The Olympia B.D.S. site can be found at http://www.olympiabds.org/. An article on this forum can be found on The Olympian site.
The article is pretty typical quality for a small town paper. The main thing the Olympian get's wrong is portraying this as BDS supporters vs. Olympia's Jews. Plenty of Olympia Jews support BDS. Jewish supporters of BDS include Pete Bohmer the son of a Holocaust survivor, Amy Levinson, Noah Sochet (a coop employee and a major BDS organizer), Anne Fischel, me, my Mom. Not going to list more, but a substantial part of the Olympia Jewish community. I'm going to post my Mom's speech and my speech at forum, but as separate posts. Since the forum cut speaker time at the last moment, I'm going to post the full 2 minute speeches we intended to give rather than the abbreviated versions we had time to give.