Israel Lobby Caught Undermining Free Speech Rights of Americans

By Dave Gahary

Rachel Corrie’s brutal murder by the operator of an Israeli Defense Force bulldozer in 2003 shone the light on her hometown, Olympia, Wash., that has a long history of social activism. Perhaps infused with her fighting spirit, a local business has picked up Olympia’s tradition by banning products made in Israel. Olympia Food Co-op’s (OFC) 10-member board voted in favor of the boycott in July 2010 as a way to “compel Israel to follow international law and respect Palestinian human rights.” Israeli products removed include crackers, ice cream cones and moisturizing cream.

OFC isn’t picking solely on Israel. Whaling and human rights violations led to its boycott of products from Norway and China.

Spearheaded by officials of the Israeli government, five people, including several Jewish attorneys, filed civil lawsuit in September alleging that the boycott was unfair and violated the co-op’s rules and bylaws. Interestingly, three of the five complainants actually tried to run for election to OFC’s board of directors but each lost by substantial margins.

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Last week, a motion to strike the lawsuit filed by OFC’s attorneys, including lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, asserts that the complaint is what is known as a “SLAPP,” or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, which is illegal in Washington.

According to the group Olympia Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, SLAPP lawsuits are “a form of legal and financial intimidation used to undermine social and environmental justice movements by penalizing political participation and free speech.” A hearing is set for Jan. 13.

Electronic Intifada (EI), the pro-Palestinian group responsible for fingering Israeli government involvement in the U.S. lawsuit, is in the vanguard of these types of battles. According to its website, EI “focuses on Palestine, its people, politics, culture and place in the world.”

The EI report, which revealed the Israeli Consul General for the Pacific Northwest’s involvement with the lawsuit, also revealed the involvement of the Los Angeles based pro-Israel group StandWithUs, which has been behind other efforts to strangle Americans’ right to free speech.

The report “uncovered plans by StandWithUs to file a federal civil rights complaint against Evergreen State College, the alma mater of Rachel Corrie, in an attempt to suppress campus Palestine solidarity activism.” Additionally, “Similar complaints have been filed against the University of California- Santa Cruz and Columbia University, as part of a strategy masterminded by pro-Israel activist and former U.S. government official Kenneth Marcus.”

In a press release, one of OFC’s attorneys explained the importance of defending the lawsuit: “Our nation was born in the middle of a boycott of British goods, and boycotts have played an important role over the centuries in our system of freedom of expression.”