The Washington State Supreme Court made the news yesterday. It ruled on a case involving the boycott of Israeli-made product in an Olympia, Washington co-op supermarket.
That case reveals some dirty laundry about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It reveals how BDS preys on that portion of the public called, sincere-and-humanitarian. It also reveals that BDS may not be as humanitarian as you think; your sincere-but-innocent embrace of BDS can land you at the wrong end of a court case.
BDS began in 2005. It was organized by ‘Palestinian activists’ (Homepage, (bdsmovement. Net). Its public face is to achieve freedom, justice and equality for the ’Palestinian’ people (ibid). It wants Israel to ‘obey the law’ [comply with international law] (ibid).
On the surface, there appears to be nothing wrong with such goals. They seem noble: protect the weak against the oppressor.
There’s just one problem: BDS’ goal has nothing to do with freedom, justice or the law. Its goal is to destroy Israel (see “BDS leaders: The only solution is violence”, Israel Matzav, June 12, 2013 and David Lev, “Paul McCartney: They [BDS] Threatened to Kill Me if I Played in Israel”, Arutz Sheva, July 10, 2013).
In 2012, anti-Israel poster-boy Norman Finkelstein shocked the world when he declared that it’s no accident that BDS doesn’t mention Israel’s right to exist (Rachel Hirshfield, “Finkelstein: BDS Movement is a 'Cult'” Arutz Sheva, February 15, 2012). It fails to do that, he said, because its goal is to eliminate Israel (ibid). He said, BDS thinks it’s very clever to call itself ‘rights based’ and fighting for ‘the law’. But BDS knows “that the end result [of its activities] is that there is no Israel” (ibid).
That, he suggested, wasn’t noble. It was illegal [against international law] (ibid).
Shortly after Finkelstein made these comments, essayist Adam Shay suggested that BDS wasn’t humanitarian. It was a weapon. Its specific purpose is to delegitimize Israel in the international community (“Manipulation and Deception: The Anti-Israel “BDS” Campaign (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions)”, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, March 19, 2012, vol 12, no. 2). It targets the general public at the grass-roots level to instil the desire to act against Israel (ibid). It specifically aims to manipulate academe, the commercial marketplace and the social-cultural arena (ibid).
Shay argued that BDS uses a number of political slogans to generate support for an anti-Israel campaign. These slogans are reminiscent of language used by earlier activists fighting the apartheid regime of South Africa (ibid). These slogans include, “Israel is an ‘apartheid and colonizing state,’ a ‘discriminatory occupation regime’, a ‘violator of international law’, and a ‘repressive occupier’ (ibid).
This language similarity isn’t an accident. By comparing Israel to South Africa, BDS aims to undermine Israel’s legitimacy by using the same slogans, language and tactics originally (and successfully) used to undermine South Africa (Luke Akehurst, “Getting Boycott Ethics Right”, Progress, August 21, 2012).
BDS’ allure is that it appeals to sincere humanitarian feelings generally felt by specific groups (Shay, ibid). These groups include students on college campuses, members of the general public frequenting certain types of stores and supermarkets, attendees at cultural events, performers, and commercial entities trading with Israel (ibid). The BDS aim is to manipulate these specific groups (ibid), for two reasons: (1), the people in these groups genuinely identify themselves with and support any movement that says it opposes apartheid, discrimination, inequality, and colonialism (ibid); and, (2), these same people tend to be unfamiliar with the intricate details and history of the issues in the Middle East (ibid).
In other words, BDS is a predator. It preys on these specific groups because it knows these groups can be manipulated .
Take the case of the Olympia Food Cooperative of Olympia, Washington (“In the Supreme Court of the State of Washington; Kent L and Linda Davis, Jeffrey and Susan Trinin, and Susan Mayer derivatively on behalf of Olympia Food Cooperative, Petitioners No. 90233-0”, Dated May 28, 2015, p. 6). This market is a non-profit corporation grocery store. It emphasizes an egalitarian philosophy that requires consensus in decision-making (ibid).
Perhaps you have a similar co-op in your city. Perhaps you shop there. If you do, you know the kind of kindly-but-innocent people who run it. They’re the kind of people who actively engage in various forms of public policy such as boycotts of certain goods for a humanitarian reason.
The Olympia co-op has such a policy (Akehurst, ibid). In this Olympia case, the Cooperative's board of directors adopted a boycott of goods produced by Israel-based companies. True humanitarians, their goal was to protest Israel's perceived human rights violations. The board adopted this boycott without staff consensus on whether it should be adopted.
The decision not to seek staff consensus violated explicit co-op rules.
As a result, five members of the Cooperative (plaintiffs) brought a derivative action against 16 current or former members of its board (defendants). The complaint alleged the board had breached its own written rules regarding boycotts (ibid, pp. 6-7).
That policy, adopted by the board in 1993, provided that the Cooperative "will honor nationally recognized boycotts" when the staff "decide[ s] by consensus" to do so.
The Board, no doubt because of its genuine and sincere desire to be as humanitarian as possible, adopted the boycott of Israel-based companies without staff consensus. Therefore, the complaint sought a declaratory judgment that the boycott was void, a permanent injunction of the boycott, and an "award of damages in an amount to be proved at trial" (ibid. p.7).
The Board, in its no doubt honest desire to be as humanitarian as possible, sued the suers (if that’s clear). The Board said, essentially, in Washington State, you can’t sue us. That’s against the law: the law says suing us is trying to squelch our right to have a free and open public discourse.
Not all states have this law. Washington state does. It exists to curtail ‘Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation’ (“Justices toss Washington law countering bad-faith lawsuits”, The News Tribune, May 28, 2015). It’s called, an anti-SLAPP law.
The Washington State Supreme Court has just ruled that the state’s anti-SLAPP law is unconstitutional. If you will, the co-op got ‘SLAPPED’ by its own ‘anti-SLAPP’ lawsuit.
Ahh, yes. The sweetly innocent humanitarians of Olympia are true BDSers. They’re so eager to act out against the Jewish state (for humanity, of course), they’ll ignore their own written policies. They’ll turn against their own members. They’ll even sue those who oppose them.
I guess that’s what ‘cooperatives’ are all about these days: when it comes to delegitimizing Israel, nothing is illegitimate—until the courts tell you otherwise.
BDS preys on the right people.