A food co-operative in Olympia, Washington is being sued by five former directors for its decision to boycott Israeli goods.
The Olympia Food Co-op joined the boycott of Israeli products in support of Palestinian human rights in 2010, becoming the first US grocery store to do so. The defendants were volunteer board members at the time.
Boycotts of Israeli products started across the world in 2005, and the co-op’s board took up the topic in 2010 at the recommendation of its merchandising team. They told the staff to obtain consensus as the co-op’s boycott policy stated.
At a meeting in July 2010 around 30 people backed the boycott and the board agreed to enact it. The decision was met with mixed reactions from members and the community. The co-op argues the resolution was based on the evidence presented as well as the business’ mission, by-laws, and boycott policy. But the plaintiffs say the board exceeded its authority.
In August 2010 the co-op held a members forum, attended by 300 people. Board elections took place later on in which three anti-boycott members stood and lost.
The case against the 16 defendants was originally filed in 2011 and rejected twice by lower courts on the grounds that it qualified as a lawsuit designed to inhibit free speech. The plaintiffs were also asked to pay $230,000 for legal expenses to the co-op.
But the Washington Supreme Court reversed the ruling in May 2015, which means the five former members of the co-op were able to take the co-op to court again and did not have to pay the $230,000 bill.
Case hearings are currently taking place at the Washington State Supreme Court. The plaintiffs are backed by StandWithUs, an international non-profit pro-Israel education and advocacy organisation based in Los Angeles.