Well the verdict is in regarding the lawsuit against the Olympia FoodCo-op for their Israel boycott, and there is no sugar coating the news that the judge went against the plaintiffs as hard as he could, not just dismissing their claims but hitting them with an anti-SLAPP judgment that could lead to heavy fines.
Needless to say, the BDSers are masturbating themselves into unconsciousness over the decision all over the Internet. And while I could always go down the well-trod BDS path of declaring “By losing we really won!,” I prefer not to spin or deny what has happened, but to learn from it.
In nearly every instance when I have commented on this or any other BDS-related lawsuit, I have tried to make it clear why my preference is for political vs. legal responses to boycott and divestment activity.
To begin with, political responses have been pretty-much 100% successful over the last ten years, which means non-legal remedies continue to represent my preferred path (as difficult and painful as it can sometimes be to have to engage in them).
Second, lawsuits set not just legal but political precedent, making it that much harder to complain when your opponents take to the courts (as BDSers have in at least two other instances I’ve followed or been part of in the past).
Finally, a lawsuit is high risk. And while I’d be surprised if huge fines end up getting levied on a group of Olympia citizens (either due to the SLAPP motion being overturned on appeal – allowing the case to continue, or the whole thing getting settled out of court), I think that Olympia demonstrates the chances one takes if you go down the legal route (no matter how justified one might feel about your position and how strong your feel your case).
As noted above, I only know of three BDS-related lawsuits: this one and two filed by boycotters in Sacramento (against the Sacramento Food Co-op) and Somerville (against the city). I’ve actually served as a witness in two of those cases (Olympia and Somerville), and all three seem to highlight the reluctance of the courts to interfere with the political decision making of a civic institution (be it a food co-op or municipality).
The other observation I have about the case derives from having read the court documents submitted by both sides (which are available here if you’ve got the time and inclination to read through them).
This observation fits into a theme I’ve revisited a number of times on this site: the notion of sacrifice (or, more specifically, the type of sacrifice BDS demands of the civic institutions they ask to partake in a boycott or divestment decision).
Summarizing that theme, one of the more extraordinary characteristics of boycott and divestment campaigners is that they demand a civic organization not simply take its side but to put onto the alter that which the institution holds most sacred in order to be considered a “true” BDS participant.
In the case of media (be it the British National Union of Journalistsor community radio stations), journalists are asked to sacrifice journalistic objectivity (the key to their professional integrity) in order to make a statement about one particular international issue (the perfidy of the Jewish state).
Teachers who want to participate in an academic boycott are not being asked to simply take a political stance, but to throw the whole notion of academic freedom out the window in order to use their professional positions as weapons against Israeli colleagues.
Nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than in the Mainline Protestant churches which are asked to make their pronouncements condemning Israel not in the name of individuals, committees or the church, but in the name of “Christian Witness,” implying that God himself is in unquestionable alignment with the BDSers worldly political positions.
If you look through the main legal submissions by the Olympia Food Co-op, their key argument (which I presume was accepted by the court) was that the leadership of the organization can basically do whatever it wants, whenever it likes, regardless of any specifics that may appear in the organization’s by-laws, and (by implication) regardless of how much it might offend people (even if not the majority) which that leadership is supposed to represent (be they staff or members).
Legally (at least according to the judge hearing this case), the board of an organization like the Co-op does appear to have this type of latitude. And even if the SLAPP portion of the case is overturned or the whole case settled, the keystone argument the Co-op and their BDS supporters have presented is that what the leaders say goes.
While this argument may be legally correct, what does it say about an organization that prides itself on cooperation, community-building and consensus-based leadership? It says that in the case of BDS, all of those principles have to be jettisoned (all for a “higher cause,” of course). And in the (hopefully unlikely) case that the next step in this sad story is for members of the Co-op to get punished with heavy personal fines (while the BDSers chortle all the way to the bank), what does that leave of the co-op, other than a rigidly hierarchical institution ready to punish those who dare cross it?
As an anti-BDS activist, I’ve already gotten all I need from Olympia: a precedent that – when invoked – virtually guarantees victory in any other co-op boycott fight in the country. But, as noted before, the fact that I am united with members of the Olympia community by the common experience of having woken up to discover others trying to speak in my name keeps me coming back to the Olympia story that would probably be best left alone.
Yesterday, the court stated that the leadership of that community has the legal right to act in an appalling fashion towards large percentages of the people it is supposed to represent. But, as we know from many other aspects of life, just because something is legal, does not make it any less appalling.