Presenting the “progressive” (Guardian approved) group, Avaaz – astroturfing for Hamas.

The Guardian’s recent video series by Jon Ronson – and in particular its supposed focus on the subject of ‘astroturfing‘  - prompts one to consider organisations which (despite having so far  escaped Ronson’s attention) actually do employ the internet in order to promote certain campaigns or agendas by mobilising mass support from their online communities.

One such organisation (which has even enjoyed Guardian promotion) is Avaaz, formed in 2007, which claims to have a worldwide membership of over 10 million. It also claims that its campaigns are selected by its members themselves in democratic polls, and that it practices what it terms ‘servant leadership’. But is that really the entire story? In order to analyse the Avaaz agenda it is necessary to take a look at both its origins and some of the key players behind it.

A collection of other organisations, most dealing in online advocacy, brought Avaaz into being. Those organisations include primarily Res Publica and MoveOn as well as Purpose, GetUp and the Service Employees International Union.  The co-founders of Avaaz are listed as follows:

Ricken Patel  - Executive Director (Also Res Publica and a member of the J Street advisory board).

Tom Perriello (Also former Congressman for Virginia, Res Publica and the Catholic Alliance for the Common Good).

David Madden (Also GetUp and Purpose).

Jeremy Heimans (Also GetUp and Purpose).

Andrea Woodhouse (Also consultant to the World Bank).

Tom Pravda  - Secretary. (Also Res Publica, ‘Integrity’ and UK FCO)

Eli Pariser (Also MoveOn, Res Publica and a member of the J Street Advisory Board).

Another person involved in the establishment of Avaaz was Ben Brandzel – formerly of MoveOn and GetUp and a Democrat fundraiser. He is now involved with 38 Degrees’ – a British online advocacy organisation formed in 2009 which operates in a similar manner to Avaaz.

Res Publica was founded in 2003 with funding from George Soros’ ‘Open Society Institute’ and according to its website Avaaz is currently its primary project although in the past it concerned itself with “catalyzing a resurgence of the prophetic and progressive religious voice in America” through its ‘Faithful America’ campaign, which also received two grants of $400,000 each from the Open Society Institute in 2008.

Its fellows include Ricken Patel (currently the Director of Avaaz and formerly an employee of the International Crisis Group of which Soros is a trustee), Tom Perriello (founder of the Catholic Alliance for the Common Good, also funded by Soros) and British diplomat Tom Pravda. Res Publica’s advisory board includes Anthony Barnett (editor of Open Democracy), UK parliamentarian and patron of the UK branch of ICHAD Clare Short, Eli Pariser (of MoveOn), Zainab Bangura (formerly a board member of the Open Society Institute) and John Podesta  (founder of the also Soros funded ‘Center for American Progress’).

MoveOn is an earlier organisation, founded in 1998, initially as an e-mail group by Wes Boyd and Joan Blades and it too has benefited from Soros funding. The same Eli Pariser from Res Publica’s advisory board acts as its board director.

GetUp (founded in 2005) and Purpose (2009) are both the brainchild of Australians Jeremy Heimans and David Madden. Both work along the same lines as res Publica, MoveOn and Avaaz by activating their members in what they term “mass digital participation”.

The exception in the group of organisations which produced Avaaz is the Service Employees International Union: despite the name, the second largest American trade union and one which seems to be interested in subjects beyond its members’ employment welfare.

Although Avaaz now claims to be financially independent, it would appear that a grant from George Soros via Res Publica facilitated its establishment.

Obviously, a lot of very experienced internet campaign organisers are involved with Avaaz and its support base has grown considerably since its establishment, perhaps due to action on subjects with a fairly broad consensus such as ecology or aid to areas suffering natural disasters such as Haiti and Burma.  However, it seems that the Avaaz community – having been recruited by means of whales, bees and elephants – is also being manipulated into taking a stance on the Arab/Israeli conflict and that the information it is being given in Avaaz campaigns on this subject is, to say the least, highly partisan.

Avaaz’s Hebrew language webpage currently features a call to support the campaign by Daphne Leif and other leaders of the tent-protest movement demanding that the Israeli government to breach the Knesset approved national budget framework (and therefore plunge the country into debt) in order to meet their demands. If one wonders why a New York-based organisation such as Avaaz should be meddling in the financial affairs of a sovereign country, the answer comes in the form of Avaaz’s Senior Campaigner in Israel, Raluca Ganea.

Ganea, in addition to her work with Avaaz, is involved with numerous Left-wing organisations including Shutafut-Sharaka – for which she acts as media co-ordinator. Shutafut-Sharaka is composed of a a group of organisations, including the New Israel Fund’s ‘Shatil’, the Abraham Fund Initiative, Sikkui and Agenda – a “centre for strategic communications” which includes among its management Rachel Liel (also director of the NIF in Israel) and Oriella Ben Zvi (of Ben Or Consulting, which she founded together with J Street’s Jeremy Ben Ami, himself a former New Israel Fund employee). 

Rachel Liel was active in her role at NIF in international fundraising for the tent-protest movement and Shatil issued a guide to organising such protests.  It therefore comes as little surprise to find Raluca Ganea promoting the movement’s agenda on the Avaaz website, although that does rather suggest that Avaaz’s self-declared principle of its worldwide community selecting its campaigns is far from entirely transparent. Ganea has in the past also used Avaaz to promote her point of view on other internal Israeli issues such as the deportation of the children of illegal workers and the “aggressive Judaization of East Jerusalem“, urging Avaaz members to participate in the weekly demonstrations in the Shimon Hatsadik neighbourhood, organised by the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement. That organisation’s leader, Sara Benninga, was the recipient of an ‘Honouring our Heroes award at the J Street conference in February 2011 and foreign donations to the organisation are channelled through the New Israel Fund.

It is, therefore, quite clear that as far as domestic Israeli affairs are concerned, Avaaz is engaged in amplifying the agenda of the conglomeration of fringe organisations on the far Left (and sometimes post-Zionist) end of the political map. Many of those organisations are linked to the very cosily connected New Israel Fund and J Street and, with two of Avaaz’s founders on the J Street advisory council, and another – Tom Perriello – having had his 2008 election campaign endorsed and financed by J Street, that is hardly likely to be a coincidence.

However, it is when one examines Avaaz’s record on external Israeli affairs that the picture becomes even more interesting.

In 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, Avaaz ran a campaign entitled “Gaza: Stop the Bloodshed” calling for a ceasefire and “re-opening the borders and crossings under proper supervision, ending the blockade of Gaza’s 1.5 million civilians”. No reference was made to the thousands of Hamas rockets which terrorised Israeli civilians for years before the operation and no explanation given as to why a blockade was necessary to prevent the smuggling of arms to Gaza.  At the time, the following statement appeared on the Avaaz website:

“The people of Gaza are being squeezed to death. This week’s blackouts have finally reached the attention of the world — and the international community could help end the blockade. Our obligation is clear. This isn’t about Israel vs Palestine or Hamas vs Fatah: this is about 1.5 million human beings locked up in the biggest prison on earth…. The humanitarian crisis of sealed-off Gaza is only getting worse, and a rain of missiles is falling.”

In 2010 Avaaz firmly pinned its colours to the mast of the Mavi Marmara when it launched a petition calling for world leaders to “investigate the raid, end the blockade”, and describing the IHH/Muslim Brotherhood-organised flotilla as “humanitarian”.

Currently Avaaz is promoting a petition in support of Mahmoud Abass’ unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.  Part of its campaign includes this video – analysed by social media expert Dr Andre Obler here.

It is all too apparent that Avaaz’s Israel-related campaigns are both biased and superficial. The “instant click to sign” policy encourages its online members to add their names to petitions which provide no in-depth background information on the issue at hand and which aim to engage people by means of highly charged emotional language, the promise of belonging to a “community” which “empowers” them and the plea to “tell your friends. In other words, this is astroturfing par excellence.

The trouble is that this is not just common or garden astroturfing: this is campaigning on behalf of organisations such as Hamas and the Moslem Brotherhood by both promoting their objectives and parroting their narrative. If one wonders how it is possible that Avaaz reached that stance, it is helpful to take a look at yet another of its founding members and resident Middle East expert – a man named Paul Hilder, who was also the author of a 2009 article promoted by Avaaz entitled “Gaza is Dying.

Currently employed by Oxfam in the position of campaigns manager, Hilder previously worked in the same role for Avaaz and has written about online social activism for the Guardian. Like his Avaaz co-founder Ben Brandzel, he is a board member of the British online campaigning organisation ’38 Degrees’ and he also co-founded ‘openDemocracy.

Hilder’s credentials as social activist cum Middle East expert make him something of a favourite on the international conference circuit as well as in the media, but there is another side to his ‘expertise’.  A rather less-mentioned item on Hilder’s CV is the fact that at the same time as he was employed by Avaaz, he also worked as Policy Director for the Middle East Policy Initiative Forum. This rather bland-sounding title embodies collaboration between the Oxford Research Group and Conflicts Forum on an EU-funded report entitled From Crisis to Opportunity.

“From Crisis to Opportunity” aims to support a new, inclusive approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict by opening consultations among legitimate yet opposed stakeholders through civil society-brokered dialogue, analysis and engagement. The goal is to explore accommodations grounded in real support in the societies. The action will engage rooted elements of Palestinian and Israeli society and stakeholders from the wider region, including faith-based movements. “

Conflicts Forum was co-founded and is directed by the former British intelligence officer Alistair Crooke. Its Board of Advisors includes Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi, Ismail Patel of ‘Friends of Al Aqsa’ and Moazzam Begg of ‘Cageprisoners’. In describing the organisation’s raison d’etre, Dr Jonathan Spyer stated that:

(Emphasis added. The document to which Dr Spyer refers can be read here.)

“It describes its aim as opening “a new relationship between the West and the Muslim world.” What this anodyne phrase means in practice is revealed in a remarkably frank document published by this group, in which it explains the means it intends to use to bring about the basic change in perception that will bring Hamas and Hizbullah into the mainstream. The document notes the need to build a “link-up between activist groups and mobilizers of opinion in order to shift the debate on Islamism from a predominantly defensive posture to a positive assertion of Islamist values and thinking.” It suggests “articulation of Hamas’s and Hizbullah’s values, philosophy and wider political and social programs… Being more proactive in statements and rephrasing discourse to focus on the positive aspects of Islamist ideology.”

Conflicts Forum’s self-assigned role as lobbyist for Hamas, Hizbollah and indeed the Iranian regime, was obviously not a deterrent to policy consultant Paul Hilder and the rest of the Middle East Policy Initiative Forum when choosing to enter into collaboration with that organisation. Neither, apparently, were the distinctly dubious track records of some of its members and contributors.  Whether or not those attributes were rather part of the attraction of working with Conflicts Forum is a subject for a different debate, but one rather obvious fact is very clear.

Conflicts Forum sought to establish a “link-up between activist groups and mobilizers of opinion” and to “link with mass organizations in Western countries – social movements”.  Its relationship with Paul Hilder appears to have yielded precisely that link-up, with Avaaz subsequently becoming engaged in the organization and mobilization of world-wide petitions in complete accord with the Hamas narrative.  Avaaz has – apparently willingly; perhaps even deliberately – become part of the orchestrated public relations campaign to re-brand proscribed Islamist terrorist organisations in the West as proponents of “social justice” and it is using its world-wide membership to advance that cause.

Avaaz’s record on both internal and external Israeli affairs clearly indicates that it is not its ‘world-wide community’ piper which is calling the tune but in fact a collection of interested parties. Its promotion of the myth of ‘servant leadership’ whilst willingly collaborating with big money and/or big ideology means that it is engaged in the cynical exploitation of its members for the purpose of political astroturfing.  It is not the democratic, principled forum for social activism it claims to be, but a sophisticated and well-greased mechanism for extremist political engineering.

Funny how the Guardian’s Jon Ronson missed that.

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Peter Kosminsky acknowledges using testimony from radical NGO as source for “The Promise”

H/T to an alert reader for capturing Peter Kosminsky’s live chat (below) with viewers of his show, The Promise, which confirms the director’s use of research from highly politicized sources.

As we’ve pointed out previously, the show is brimming with historical falsehoods – such as the implicit assertion that the Arabs were the indigenous people in Israel, and the Jews should rightly seen as interlopers – and Kosminsky’s own virulently anti-Israel politics have been enunciated very clearly in his Guardian op-ed prior to the show’s airing. See my open letter to Kosminsky, in response to his Guardian commentary, here, but here are some highlights of his essay:

“Israel is isolated, loathed and feared in equal measure by its neighbours, finding little sympathy outside America for its uncompromising view of how to defend its borders and secure its future.”

“How did Israel squander the compassion [derived from the horrors of the Holocaust] of the world within a lifetime?”

During the live chat, when asked about the research he conducted for the show – a multi-part drama on British television, about Israel, which just finished airing – Kosminsky cited the NGO Breaking the Silence, as one of his main sources:

Per research conducted by the highly respected watchdog group, NGO Monitor, Breaking the Silence – a group funded by George Soros, New Israel Fund, and the EU (among others) - was active in promoting “war crimes” charges against Israel after the Gaza fighting in January 2009, charges which were based on anonymous and unverifiable hearsay “testimonies.”

Further, per analysis by Amos Harel in Ha’aretz: “Breaking the Silence…has a clear political agenda, and can no longer be classed as a ‘human rights organization.’ Any organization whose website includes the claim by members to expose the ‘corruption which permeates the military system’ is not a neutral observer.”

BtS members and anti-Israel activists Yonatan and Itamar Shapira were on the “Jews for Justice for Palestinians” boat “Irene,” which sought to violate Israel’s security-based policies regarding naval traffic into Gaza (September 2010).

While, of course, as anyone who’s actually lived here can testify to, Israelis (unlike citizens in neighboring countries) are free to speak out against the government or the military – a fact which begs the question, what “silence” exactly is BtS breaking? – Kosminsky’s use of testimony by BtS clearly undermines his claim that he conducted objective research for his show.

Instead of asking questions of average Israelis who serve or have served in the IDF, to understand Israeli military life, he chose instead a group with a clear, and quite radical, political agenda whose views are quite marginal, and are only amplified by the enormous resources provided to the group by European governments, and powerful foundations like NIF and George Soros’s Open Society Institute.

Kosmisnsky clearly knows little about the real nation of Israel beyond the one-dimensional caricature which informs the opinions of the elite media and cultural gatekeepers in the UK – an abstraction of the democratic Jewish state which his “research” only served to confirm, and, now, after”The Promise” has been seen by millions of viewers, will be even more firmly embedded in the political  imagination of the British public.

(Update: See NGO Monitor’s latest critical analysis of claims made by the group, Breaking the Silence, here)

George Soros says Israel is the main obstacle to a democratic Egypt

Cross posted at NewsRealBlog, by Eldad Tzioni

Guess what George Soros considers the biggest stumbling block to Egyptian democracy?

Could it be the fact that there is no tradition of democracy in Egypt and democratic institutions can’t be created in an instant during a time of upheaval?

No, that’s not it.

Could it be the fact that Mubarak is sending thugs into pro-freedom demonstrations to beat up the protesters?

No, not that either.

Could it be the Muslim Brotherhood, the best-organized opposition group in Egypt, which is dedicated not to freedom but to instituting Shari’a law throughout Egypt and eventually to create a pan-Muslim state across the region?

Nope, not at all.

The main obstacle to Egyptian peace is – Israel.

As he writes in :Thursday’s Washington Post

The main stumbling block is Israel.

The way he sees it, Israel and the Jewish lobby are dead-set against Egyptian democracy, much preferring a dictatorship next door where millions of Egyptians can be oppressed. Israel, which Soros presumes is an authoritarian regime, loves Egypt as it is — a state where Israeli tourists are routinely warned to leave because of potential terror attacks, a state where the Camp David demands of normalization were never implemented, a state where well over 90% of the population hates Jews according to polls.

According to Soros’ bizarre logic, the Muslim Brotherhood’s alliance with Mohamed ElBaradei, rather than being a cynical use of a stooge who has barely lived in Egypt for thirty years and who has no governing experience — a partnership where the Brotherhood can easily bend him to their will — is “a hopeful sign that it intends to play a constructive role in a democratic political system.”

What is he smoking? People said the exact same thing about Hamas and Hezbollah and, at the time, the Islamists who took over Iran in 1979. The far Left has consistently embraced Islamist parties who are fundamentally and inherently against liberal values — against equality for all citizens, against non-Muslims in positions of power, against equal rights for women, the list goes on — because of such shortsighted and ignorant wishful thinking.

As a result, we have Lebanon now effectively governed by an Islamic group and turning into a satellite of Iran, we have Gaza governed by a group that has no interest in democracy or equality and that is dedicated to destroying another state — and we have an Egypt that will probably be ruled by the organization that was the forerunner of Al Qaeda.

Soros says:

“I am, as a general rule, wary of revolutions. But in the case of Egypt, I see a good chance of success.”

Based on what exactly?

“As a committed advocate of democracy and open society, I cannot help but share in the enthusiasm that is sweeping across the Middle East.”

Ah. His feelings that this will end up with a democratic, free Egypt are based on nothing more than his getting swept up with enthusiasm. It is not based on any sober analysis or of any weighing of the potential downside of such a revolution.

Rather than look at the entire picture, Soros wants to focus all his hate on Israel, which he firmly believes is an obstacle to peace — in Egypt.

The liberal racism of J Street’s Daniel Levy

H/T Mere Rhetoric

With the liberal lobbying group, J Street, still reeling from revelations that their director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, wasn’t truthful about funding the group received from George Soros, a video has surfaced of J Street’s co-founder, Daniel Levy (who’s been fawned over by the Guardian’s Michael Tomasky and Chris McGreal) which again reveal the group’s true colors.

At a Q+A of “Palestinian Politics and Obama’s Peace Plans,” an event held in October 2009 by Levy’s The Century Foundation (cached event page here, PDF of quotes here, full video here and here), Levy – who recently caused problems for J Street when he referred to Israel’s entire creation as “an act that was wrong” – accused Israel of doing everything in their power “to try to turn the Palestinians violent.”  Here’s the exchange:

DANIEL LEVY: So Fatah is irretrievably bought into a negotiations-only strategy. What if the negotiations don’t deliver? And Hamas into an illegitimate strategy that includes use of violence against civilians.
BASSIM KHOURY: We Palestinians have part of the blame with where we are now because of our homicide bombings in Israel.
DANIEL LEVY: The Palestinian side has failed to produce a third alternative. The third alternative inside the territories is about nonviolent resistance which is why Israel does everything to try and turn nonviolent resistance into violence.

Of course, CiF Watch is not unfamiliar with tropes – by Israel haters both above and below the line at the Guardian – suggesting Israeli culpability for Palestinian terrorism and extremism.  But, when the leader of a large, well-funded, lobbying group, which claims to be pro-Israel, advances such a narrative it is especially troubling.

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Selling out to Soros

 

Well,well; it’s amazing what one finds out by reading the Guardian. Had I not read the October 28th editorial “In praise (I think that’s British understatement) of George Soros” for instance, I would never have discovered that I’m apparently of a curmudgeonly persuasion.

It turns out too that I’m deemed to remain “an ill-tempered person full of resentment and stubborn notions” (according to the dictionary) for the Guardian informs me that “[o]nly the most curmudgeonly of his critics could fail to admire what the billionaire is doing with his money”.

As a socialist, I do resent the fact that the Soros fortune was mostly made by carelessly playing around with the lives of the little people affected by currency speculation. Short sellers and operators of hedge funds for the super-rich are not the traditional type of praiseworthy hero for a Left of centre newspaper, but the Guardian’s apparent ‘conversion’ indicates just how far it is prepared to go in sanctifying the methods in order to realise the aim.

I’m afraid that I must also plead guilty to holding on to the stubborn notion that the legalisation of drugs – one of Soros’ pet campaigns – is not a positive step for society to take, particularly in light of the well-known link between drugs and the financing of terror, but also due to my experience as a health-care professional who has often had to deal with the devastating effects of drug use not only upon the lives of addicts themselves, but also upon their families and even innocent bystanders.

But the aspect of Soros’ ‘chequebook advocacy’ which makes me most ill-tempered is his support for organisations which aim to eliminate the Jewish nature of Israel and undermine the elected government of a democratic nation by means of delegitimisation. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to live in a society in which we count votes, not cash; in which every voice carries equal weight, regardless of wealth or connections. The sad thing is that once upon a time, the Guardian believed in that too.

Soros’ ‘Open Society Institute’ funds a whole host of operations in Israel such as Adalah, Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, Gisha and Yesh Din. Adalah works towards a one-state ‘solution’ in which the Jewish nature of Israel would be replaced by a “democratic, bilingual and multicultural” framework. Jewish immigration would only be permitted for “humanitarian reasons.” In other words, millions of Palestinian refugees would be brought to Israel, but Jews would be severely limited in their right to immigrate as the Law of Return would have been abolished.  Adalah promotes the erroneous and delegitimising concept of ‘Israeli apartheid’ and contributed significantly to the infamous Goldstone Report.  Soros’ Open Society Institute has provided legal assistance to Adalah in its attempts to overturn the Israeli law which states that spouses from enemy states are not automatically granted Israeli citizenship for reasons of security. That’s not only foreign intervention in the internal legal affairs of a sovereign state, but also reckless gambling with the lives of Israeli citizens.

Soros recently donated $100,000,000 in matched funding over a period of 10 years to Human Rights Watch. Readers will no doubt remember that just over a year ago Human Rights Watch’s founder, Robert Bernstein, accused the organization of “helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state”. The generous Soros pledge does not bode well for any kind of improvement in the organizational culture at HRW ; in fact one might even say that this is a case of ‘birds of a feather’ joining forces –  supposed political agenda-free ‘human rights’ activists using the language of civil rights and democracy in order to promote extremist ideology. And if that sounds a little far-fetched, consider the following.

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What will $11 million buy you in London?

A guest post by AKUS

In Washington, $11 million buys you your own lobbying organization opposed to Israel’s government and gets you access to the White House and Congress. That is the amount that J Street has raised since 2008. But now, serious questions have arisen regarding the sources of some of that money and the purposes of some of the donors.

I refer, of course, to the expanding scandal surrounding J Street and its slippery director, Jeremy Ben-Ami , a person deeply involved with many of the organizations central to the campaign to delegitimize Israel.

It has emerged, thanks to investigative reporting in the Washington Times, that J Street had received substantial support from financier George Soros. Soros is widely regarded as intensely opposed to Israeli government policies and is a known supporter of many of the organizations opposed to Israel’s government. The Times article cited Gerald Steinberg, NGO Monitor’s director, in a New York Post op-ed before the J Street controversy broke:

“In the Middle East, for example, [Soros] Open Society Institute exclusively supports advocacy groups that campaign internationally to undermine the elected governments of Israel — organizations such as Adalah, Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, Gisha and Yesh Din.”  (Adalah is opposed to Israel’s very existence, incidentally).

According to the Washington Post, which has largely avoided the issue, the source of the Washington Times’ information was J Street’s tax records:

“The liberal group’s Web site suggested that J Street had received no funding from George Soros, the wealthy philanthropist who serves as a bete noire for many conservatives. It also said that donors were “primarily individual Jewish Americans” and that it “accepts no funding from foreign governments or from foreign organizations.”

“But confidential tax records mistakenly made public by the Internal Revenue Service seemed to undermine those characterizations – causing a major public relations problem for the fledgling group, which has enjoyed regular access to the White House and senior Obama administration officials.”

According to the Times article, widely regarded as authoritative and even cited in the Washington Jewish Week, a paper which appears to be sympathetic to J Street:

“The backdrop for the brouhaha is Ben-Ami’s repeated denials that Soros had a role in founding the dovish pro-Israel lobby and strongly implying that he continued to have no role.”

It is, apparently, technically correct that Soros was not one of the founders. However, once the organization was founded, the tax records revealed that J Street received massive funding from the Soros family and associates – a small matter that Ben-Ami neglected to point out, under cover of the technicality that Soros was not one of the initial funders of the organization:

“Tax forms obtained by The Washington Times reveal that Mr. Soros and his two children, Jonathan and Andrea Soros, contributed a total $245,000 to J Street from one Manhattan address in New York during the fiscal year from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009.”

Jeremy Ben Ami, J Street’s executive director, said in an interview that the $245,000 was part of a $750,000 gift from the Soros family to his organization made over three years. Mr. Ben Ami also said that in this same period he had raised $11 million for J Street and its political action committee.”

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