So Sue Me

Well the saga of BDS trying to bash its way into the food co-op community seems to have hit its inevitable endpoint as boycott fanatics in Sacramento, unable to force a vote on exiling Israeli goods from the local food co-op, have decided to try to sue their way onto a member ballot.

With all the boycott and divestment stories I’ve followed over the last decade, this is only the second time I can recall that BDS has led to legal action. That other occasion was Somerville, Massachusetts where (as in Sacramento), the local divestment group tried (in that case, unsuccessfully) to use the courts to force the city to print their condemnation of Israel onto a city-wide ballot.

In that case, there was some ambiguity regarding city and state law over the placement of binding vs. non-binding questions onto local ballots, which is why a judge was required to untangle a statuary knot. For the Sacramento Natural Food Co-op, however, I suspect this will end up a civil case turning on whether or not the Co-op followed its own by-laws when rejecting the BDSers request that banning Israeli goods be put to a member vote.

The problem for both plaintiff and defendant in such a case is that a local food co-op (unlike a city or state government or publically traded corporation) rarely invests the time in ensuring governance laws are air-tight with regard to low-probability scenarios. Part of this has to do with resources, but for the most part such organizations can live with a certain amount of ambiguity because of their nature as co-operative civic institutions.

In an organization made up of people who have agreed to work together towards a common good, there is generally enough good will to fall back on when the inevitable conflict arises between members with competing legitimate needs. Thus by-laws, rules and regulations can be kept to a minimum (or at least not enacted or enforced to the nth degree) because, at the end of the day, members understand that their personal needs must be balanced with the concerns of other members (often their neighbors) as well as the needs of the organization as a whole.

But can you see the flaw in such an assumption? For what if some members of a community like the Sacramento Co-op DO NOT concern themselves with the needs of others in any way? What if the fact that many, many members have communicated that they would be appalled at any effort to use the good offices of the Co-op to smear the Jewish state does not move the BDSers one bit? And what if those BDSers could not care less if their efforts created conflict and rancor at a once-friendly community, so long as they could find some combination of rules and regulations that would allow them to get their way, regardless of the damage it caused to anyone else?

You see, loose rules are fine for a community of food co-op members who are ready to make certain sacrifices for one another. But in Sacramento you have the very different situation of a group of BDS activists whose first (and only) loyalty is to BDS. Which means the fate of the co-op means nothing to them since the co-op itself IS nothing to them, other than a plaything they can use to try to rekindle their failed campaign to get boycotts cooking at cooperative groceries.

And thus enough ambiguous by-laws are marshaled to make the case that the co-op is breaking the rules by refusing to put an Israel boycott to a vote (despite any good faith effort the co-op’s leadership might have made to navigate those ambiguous rules themselves while communicating their decision-making process to members). And since the boycotters can always count on pro bono help from members of the Lawyer’s Guild (an organization that long ago disintegrated into little more than the legal mouthpiece for anti-Israel partisans), the co-op is going to have to pick up the tab for their own legal defense (the perfect thing for a small organization to be forced to spend thousands of dollars on).

Coincidentally, I recently gave a talk to a lawyer’s group in which we discussed whether or not BDS required a legal counter-strategy. When asked about this subject, I pointed out that because BDS has failed so spectacularly in the political arena over the last decade, there were actually few if any people against whom to take legal action. And while not averse to the notion of legal activity under any circumstances, I did point out that “going legal” could have a political downside, allowing boycott and divestment proponents to claim that their allegedly legitimate activity was being threatened by threats of a suit.

In the case of Sacramento we should keep in mind that this legal vs. political sword cuts both ways. Which means we should make sure that every co-op in the land now fully understands the type of ruthless insensitivity that accompanies demands for anti-Israel boycotts or boycott votes at their institutions.

After all, the boycotters always have the option to stop buying Israeli products themselves (a decision they have no doubt already made, but no one cares about). They could also start their own Israel-free co-op and indulge in all the boycotts they wish (although this would involve doing something constructive with their energies, rather than just torturing their neighbors). Finally, they could put their efforts into helping Israelis and Palestinians work together towards a common future. But, as was pointed out earlier, those working towards peaceful co-existence are now a target, not an alternative, for a BDS program that laughingly insists it be treated as a “peace movement.”

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