Judge agrees with Olympia Food Co-op, says no members hurt by boycott of Israeli goods

A sign tells Olympia Food Co-op shoppers about the co-op board’s decision to boycott Israeli goods starting in 2010.
A sign tells Olympia Food Co-op shoppers about the co-op board’s decision to boycott Israeli goods starting in 2010. Olympian file photo

A Thurston County judge has ruled in favor of former Olympia Food Co-op board members in a case challenging the co-op’s boycott of Israeli goods.

The case was filed in 2011 against co-op board members by five co-op members who argued the board violated its policies in enacting the boycott because it did not first reach consensus among its members. Nine of the co-op’s 10 board members voted to remove Israeli products from store shelves in 2010 — including gluten-free crackers, ice cream cones and moisturizing cream — in a show of support for Palestinians.

The case was initially dismissed in 2012 under a Washington statute that protected against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation brought in response to defendants exercising their First Amendment rights. The Washington Supreme Court in 2015 struck down the anti-SLAPP statute and sent the co-op case back to Thurston County Superior Court.

Two of the five plaintiffs have pulled out of the case, and none of the defendants named in the case are still on the co-op board.

On Friday, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. She ruled the plaintiffs had no standing to bring a case because they failed to show the co-op had suffered injury, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the board members.

In a news release after the decision, that group called the lawsuit part of a “broad and growing pattern of suppressing activism in support of Palestinian rights.”

“(I’m) definitely relieved,” said Grace Cox, an employee at the co-op who was named in the lawsuit after serving as temporary staff representative on the board shortly after it approved the boycott. “The case has been going on for a very long time, and the decision that was originally made was within the parameters of the (co-op’s) bylaws and the articles of incorporation.”

In a email to The Olympian, Robert Sulkin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he was confident the decision would be reversed on appeal.

“We believe, that unfortunately, the former board members of the Olympia Food Co-op were led astray by an effort that many considered to be anti-Semitic. Whatever one’s politics, the Co-op’s silence on massive human rights abuses in Syria, Iran, and Turkey — to cite just a few examples — while focusing solely on Israel, speaks volumes.”

In November, the co-op’s current board members said the lawsuit was filed without approval of the co-op or its board and should be dismissed.

It said the lawsuit made it difficult to recruit volunteers to serve on the board and hurt its “ability to engage with related issues and move forward in a spirit of reconciliation,” according to a co-op newsletter.

Abby Spegman: 360-704-6869, @AbbySpegman