Avaaz.org and the Left’s Hall of Mirrors

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.


The left collects front groups the way that some people collect ships in bottles or collectible plates. It is hard to imagine the left without its array of front groups, because the front group has been one of the biggest and most successful tactics of the left.

Front groups are a way of life for the left, because, like most extremist movements whose real views would be too unappetizing for even most of its supporters, it has to disguise its true beliefs. Its army of front groups allows the left to co-opt moderates and then filter them through its front groups to extract the true believers. Additionally the segmentation of an endless array of front groups allows the left to target very specific demographics and organize their independent-seeming groups together into a large movement.

These techniques were used to great effect by the American Communist Party in the 1930s and by the Obama 2012 campaign.

Dig into the left and you emerge in that same hall of mirrors where every organization is a front for another organization, where grant money is passed along through a complex network of activist groups, family foundations and assorted non-profits that share office space and web servers with some of the same organizations that they fund, where staffers move back and forth from running the organizations that they fund to funding the organizations that they run.

Avaaz is more than just another trendy foreign word transformed into an organization name. But it’s also much less than that. It’s just another reflection in the left’s long hall of mirrors.

On its website, Avaaz boasts 17 million members which it mobilizes for such causes as bashing Israel and fighting against corporations and dictators in various places. Media puff pieces describe it as the world’s largest online activist network. This claim, like so much else about Avaaz, is highly dubious.

Avaaz’s priorities are international and it claims to be entirely run by its members, to such an extent that it doesn’t even bother to list its administrators or board members. Instead of a staff list, there is only some empty talk about “servant-leadership.” But of course Avaaz has no servant-leaders.  Nor is it the grass-roots independent organization that it pretends to be.

To begin with Avaaz is not an activist group; it’s a lobby with half-a-million in salaries paid out to its “servant-leaders”, who go unnamed on the site.

Like most front groups, Avaaz has an extensive history behind it.  Avaaz was co-founded by Ricken Patel, who formerly worked for George Soros’ International Crisis Group. Patel then worked for MoveOn.org whose president, Eli Pariser, is also a chairman of the board and a co-founder of Avaaz. Both Patel and Pariser have served on the board of J Street making Avaaz look like just another arm of the Soros empire with a trendy façade up front to disguise the billionaire Nazi collaborator out back.

Avaaz was created through Res Publica, an earlier front group aimed at mobilizing the religious left. Res Publica went nowhere, but Avaaz took Res Publica’s attempt at applying MoveOn.org’s online advocacy and did it globally. And Avaaz not only gets money from Soros, it feeds money back into the Soros machine through such efforts as a fundraising campaign for Burmese democracy where the donations were to be administered by the Open Society Institute.

Soros and his Open Society Institute are the 800 pound gorilla on the left and Avaaz’s dishonest pretense that it is an independent organization dedicated to giving its members a voice, when it is actually a project of experienced lefty movement veterans funded by some of the biggest names on the left is a shameless attempt at fooling its members into believing that they are players, rather than pawns.

But the real question is whether there is even an Avaaz. There certainly is a website by that name full of petitions and salaries are being drawn by its employees, but the organization itself often appears to be more fiction than not.

Avaaz’s credentials and claims of a global network of activists coordinating international advocacy were rarely challenged until it claimed to be involved on the ground in Syria. In May it claimed to have played a leading role in rescuing Paul Conroy, a wounded photographer, from Syria. But Conroy claimed never to have heard of Avaaz or to have had any contact with them.

Avaaz built up its image of having an extensive network in Syria by describing Free Syrian Army members as its activists. Wissam Tarif, its leading activist in Syria, is actually a Lebanese man who has been passed off as Syrian on a number of occasions. Deceptions like these raise real questions about whether there even is more to Avaaz beyond a website, a few viral videos and some goofy stunts.

Kony 2012 has shown how effectively a small organization with an outsized web presence can create the illusion of representing a larger movement. Avaaz appears to be Kony 2012 on a global level, without any real focus except the left’s usual obsession with the Jewish State. Avaaz isn’t a movement; it’s a gameified webfront for left-wing clicktivist addicts.

What is Avaaz really? Its name may mean “Voice” in Persian, but it might as well mean self-importance. Avaaz inserts itself into every trendy issue, accomplishing nothing, but harvesting donations and email addresses that are likely to be useful in much bigger projects for its parent groups.

Avaaz doesn’t actually do anything, but it isn’t meant to. It brings Ricken Patel a paycheck and keeps the money coming in for a movement that isn’t actually any bigger than a website. Avaaz’s member focus means that the site will jump early on trending issues, fundraise off them and claim them as their own through a network of Avaaz activists who aren’t actually Avaaz activists at all.

The left’s hall of mirrors has many such strange reflections, light turning into shadow, small men seeming large and large men seeming small. Front groups such as these are created by the left to fool the gullible, but sometimes, as in all halls of mirrors, they only end up fooling the foolers.

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  • Guest

    Daniel,
    Avaaz is Hebrew for goose

  • Gylippus

    Sometimes I get the feeling that the entire urban culture, in all of its aspects, has become a leftist hall of mirrors; erected to confuse us and keep us off guard, and also to channel and direct our thoughts, energies and instinctive responses towards collectivist ends. Focusing on the individual pieces makes it hard to combat leftits, because often they are misdirection. They have been "shaping the battlefield" for many decades now, but we are wising up fast. Given their mass deceptions, it's better, once you recognize who they are, to go straight at them (which you do so well Daniel!).

  • John T

    They are giving Geese a bad name..

  • Ar'nun

    "Front groups such as these are created by the left to fool the gullible,"

    Well lucky for them, there are plenty of gullible people who vote (D).

  • fanlad

    Remember we out number them.

  • Stuart Parsons

    So the Wermacht did the aavaz-step. One learns something every day

  • armyguy1

    Remember how the progressives & liberal socialist students said we should challenge the authority of the government? anyone remember that movement? where is that movement now? they are in your schools teaching your children their view on how government should control the people. No country that has allowed liberal socialism or communism to take hold has been free nor will they be free yet we're headed there at full speed.

  • Jenifer

    There is honor is wanting a better world for ourselves and our children. Four+ years ago, America was weak and full of corporate disease…thankfully it's on the mend, but there needs to be swift and severe consequences for those who put the good of their pocket book above the good of the planet.
    *not subscribing to feed

  • newuser

    Avaaz definitely exists, and I'm pretty sure it fights for a lot of issues you're keen on — like internet freedom and preventing people from getting stoned to death by the Iranian regime. They've also done some really useful fundraisers, for instance after Cyclone Nargis in Burma, or trying to get the backers of Al Shabaab terrorists in Somalia to cut their economic ties & help stop the atrocities and the famine. I'm all for healthy skepticism, and you don't have to agree with everything the organization does. FYI it's 100% member-funded now and, while it did get seed money from Soros, he has neither a formal nor informal role with the organization now. Soros is an "interesting" guy in that he's happy to manipulate world markets but uses his ill-gotten gains for some useful projects…

  • richard

    wow, really happy to see some balance from 'newuser' on this piece, which reads like propaganda, and makes me wonder who paid for it. But then maybe this whole site is like that…

  • Guest

    Actually Avaaz is against freedom of speech esp in the media. In Canada, left wing CBC and CTV have had mandatory carriage by cable and satellite companies since their inception. Conservative Sun News Network (with hosts like Ezra Levant and Michael Coren) is asking for the same rights. Avaaz has an aggressive email campaign playing the usual race card, extremist, etc. B.S. to influence the CRTC (this gov't body regulator). So, Richard and Newuser, don't piss on my head and tell me it's raining. I'm Canadian and I want a Conservative News Network. I have a right to hear my opinions on air instead of the usual Socialist, anti-Israel, anti-American, Anti-MIlitary, Anti-Conservative mainstream media narrative.

  • Jehan M

    Right wing conservatives keep hanging in the repeat mode. Rather inspired by a book that was written by ignorant tribes in the middle east between 5000 and 2000 years ago, than being informed about the issues of the present world. Being blinded and deafened they one day will discover, decades after people who observe the world, that we have exhausted the world. And that they are not controlled by the governments they distrust, but by a handfull of companies we have granted too much power. But it will be far and far too late by that time.

  • madelfi

    Excellent article, Daniel.

    I wonder if you can help me?

    I’m trying to find out whether Avaaz donated any money to Mayans fighting the HudBay Minerals case.

    They claim they did, and are still fundraising. But I can’t get an answer out of them as to how much money they raised, and who they gave it to.