Is Israel's Government Involved in Harassment Lawsuit Against Washington Food Cooperative?
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Editor's note: In late 2010, the board of the Olympia Food Co-Op votedto stop carrying Israeli goods in solidarity with the international Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), setting off a political firestorm with international implications. Whatever one may think about the value of BDS, as the Center for Constitutional Rights notes, “The Supreme Court has held that peaceful political boycotts are protected under the First Amendment.” Now, a group of co-op members who failed to win election to the board have launched a lawsuit attempting to force the co-op to stock its shelves with Israeli goods. They claim the suit is not about politics, but simply a matter of process. As Phan Nguyen details below, there's ample evidence contradicting that claim, including the apparent involvement in the litigation of Stand With Us, one of the most militant groups supporting Israeli government policy. Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder of the progressive pro-Israel group, J-Street, accusedStand With Us of using “thuggish smear tactics” to silence dissenting views, and an investigation by IPS Newsfound that the group is backed by “a web of funders who support organizations that have been accused of anti-Muslim propaganda and encouraging a militant Israeli and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.”
The first court hearing in the lawsuit against the Olympia Food Co-op will commence on Thursday, February 24. The lawsuit seeks to force the Olympia Food Co-op, the first US grocery store to publicly honor the boycott of Israeli products, to nullify the boycott and once again stock gluten-free ice cream cones specifically sourced from Israel.
Supporters of the boycott and of the Olympia Food Co-op released a video calling for support and have asked supporters to sign a statement of solidarity.
The lawsuit against the co-op can be classified as a SLAPP (a strategic lawsuit against public participation) whose sole purpose is to deter political expression. The defendants, who are current and former co-op board members, have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit under Washington State’s anti-SLAPP law. In order to conceal the censoring nature of the lawsuit, however, the five plaintiffs claim the lawsuit is not politically motivated and is not about Israel. Instead, they contend that as co-op members, they are simply opposed to the process in which the boycott was instituted and would have no problem if a boycott of Israel was insituted under an alternate method.
Previous statements and actions belie such claims. Let’s look at some of the players behind this “apolitical” lawsuit, from the plaintiffs to the StandWithUs-affiliated attorneys to the Israeli officials. You can jump to the various players by clicking on the links below:
- Susan Trinin (plaintiff)
- Jeff Trinin (plaintiff)
- Linda Sternhill Davis (plaintiff)
- Kent Davis (plaintiff)
- Robert Sulkin (attorney)
- Avi Lipman (attorney)
- Rob Jacobs (StandWithUs northwest director)
- Akiva Tor (Israeli consul general)
- Danny Ayalon (Israeli deputy foreign minister)
We begin with the plaintiffs, four of whom appeared in this melodramatic StandWithUs video explaining the dangers of STDs BDS:
Of the four plaintiffs in the video, three of them (Susan Trinin, Kent Davis and Linda Sternhill Davis) attempted to overturn the boycott by running for the co-op board of directors in November 2010. All three lost by a considerable margin to candidates who supported the boycott. The winning candidates are now among the defendants in the lawsuit, even though they did not serve on the board when the boycott was approved.
In a local alternative newspaper, Susan Trinin wrote an incoherent essay against the boycott, in which she rambled about “turds” in sandboxes and faulted the co-op for not “address[ing] the secret/underground national security government” instead.