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Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Lawsuit seeks to overturn food co-op's Israeli boycott

Five people have filed a civil lawsuit alleging that a decision last year by the Olympia Food Co-op’s board to boycott Israeli products at its two stores was unfair and was not made in accordance with its own rules and bylaws.
The lawsuit, filed on Friday by Seattle attorneys Robert Sulkin and Avi J. Lipman, names five plaintiffs who are or were Olympia food co-op members at the time of the boycott: Kent and Linda Davis, Jeffrey and Susan Trinin, and Susan Mayer.
Sixteen past and present board members of the food co-op are named as defendants. The defendants are believed to have been board members when the co-op’s boycott was enacted in July 2010. The lawsuit specifically alleges that, “Universal agreement – i.e., consensus – among the Co-op staff regarding the boycott and divestment proposal was not reached before the OFC Board enacted the Israel Boycott and Divestment policies,” in July 2010.
"Decision-making by 'consensus' at OFC means that all individuals who are empowered to participate in the making of a particular decision must agree in order for particular proposal to be approved," reads the suit.
The lawsuit also claims that the proposed boycott of Israeli goods at the co-op was not a “nationally recognized boycott.”
The co-op’s own “Boycott Policy” states that the co-op may “honor nationally recognized boycotts which are called for reasons that are compatible with (OFC’s) goals and mission statement,” according to the lawsuit. According to the suit, no other food cooperative in the United States has adopted a boycott of Israeli-made products or a divestment from investment in Israel.
Israeli products that were removed from Olympia Food Co-op stores after the boycott was enacted last year include gluten-free crackers, ice cream cones and a moisturizing cream, according to a former board member. Olympia Food Co-op board member T.J. Johnson, who is named as a defendant in the suit, said Wednesday that he cannot comment on the lawsuit because he has not seen it. An employee of the food co-op’s location on Olympia’s east side added that the co-op’s staff board representative was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
The suit alleges that when the boycott was enacted by the co-op’s board, alternatives such as putting the boycott proposal to a vote by co-op members were considered, but rejected.
The lawsuit, filed in Thurston County Superior Court, seeks to have a judge declare the co-op’s boycott of Israeli goods null and void. The suit also seeks to “permanently enjoin the OFC board from enforcing or otherwise abiding by the Israel Boycott and Divestment policies and order the OFC board to follow OFC’s governing rules, procedures and principles in the future.”
The suit additionally seeks unspecified damages to be proved at trial.
Sulkin said in an interview Wednesday that the lawsuit seeks only to “make sure the process that is followed is fair.” He added that if the co-op follows its policies and reaches true consensus on the issue of boycotting Israeli goods, his clients would accept that. “If it’s a fair process and the vote goes one way, they’ll accept the vote, but they can’t agree to or accept a process that is unfair,” Sulkin said. Sulkin added that there was no “staff consensus” for the boycott.
“Our goal is to bring people together at the end of the day,” he added.
A web site in favor of boycotting Israeli goods in the U.S. states that a boycott is one means to increase pressure on the Israeli government to stop it from abusing the human rights of Palestinians. “Israel destroys Palestinian lives, livelihoods and homes daily, refuses to stop building its illegal settlements and apartheid wall on stolen land, continues to control Gaza while slicing the West Bank into Bantustans, denies Palestinian refugees their right to return, grows produce and sets up industrial zones on stolen Palestinian land, and operates an apartheid, racist system on both sides of the ‘green line’,” reads a message on a web site operated by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465

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