Senator Eric Abetz – speech regarding online activism, maligning both the BDS campaign and Palestinian Australian Sara Saleh

photo of Senator Eric Abetz
September 13, 2016

In February this year, GetUp! appointed a young Palestinian activist who has supported the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign for many years to its board. Saleh has been a BDS supporter since at least 2011.

Full speech

Senator ABETZ (Tasmania) (13:20): A few weeks ago a trove of hacked documents was published detailing the intricate international web of organisations nurtured by billionaire George Soros. Dubbed ‘the man who broke the Bank of England’, Soros is a US based hedge fund operator and currency speculator worth $25 billion. In 2002 he was convicted for insider trading. The hacked documents shed light on Soros’s extensive support of groups promoting open borders; climate action; abortion; the Palestinian cause; boycotts, divestments and sanctions targeting the democratic state of Israel; and a range of left-wing issues.

George Soros’s insidious influence has, regrettably, reached Australian politics as well. In 1999 Jeremy Heimans, then only 21, secured a two-month internship with the UN Security Council during which, according to The Sydney Morning Herald, he was to meet George Soros to talk about global financial speculation, which had been his honours thesis topic. In Australia six years later, in 2005, Jeremy Heimans and David Madden went on to co-found GetUp! in the model of and other Soros funded political action committees.

In the interim, in 2004, George Soros, Soros Fund Management, gave $150,000 to Win Back Respect, a US campaign started by Heimans and Madden, which ran television commercials targeting George Bush’s foreign policy. Soros also gave $2.6 million to Voter Fund which, in turn, gave another $150,000 to Win Back Respect, one of whose ads was a dishonest scare that the Bush administration would reintroduce the draft to deal with troop shortages for the war in Iraq, something the President emphatically denied and which, of course, never happened.

On the weekend of 16 April 2005 George Soros met in Arizona with 70 like-minded multimillionaires and billionaires, the Phoenix Group, to look at what went wrong and discuss strategy for the creation of pro-Democrat and left-leaning think tanks. According to the Washington Post, at least 80 wealthy individuals pledged $1 million or more apiece to fund a network of think tanks and advocacy groups, with the $80 million to be channelled through a new partnership, called the Democracy Alliance, as follows:

The Democracy Alliance will act as a financial clearing house. Its staff members and board of directors will develop a lineup of established and proposed groups that they believe will develop and promote ideas on the left.

On the 13 April 2005, Purpose Campaigns, cofounded by Heimans and Madden, posted an ad describing itself as a new, progressive, political campaigning organisation. Noting the Win Back Respect campaign, the ad said: ‘Purpose Campaigns was established in 2005 to continue campaigning on important progressive issues, especially in the area of foreign policy, national security and global justice issues. Purpose Campaigns is currently involved in a variety of entrepreneurial political activities, including establishing a rapid response campaigning organisation designed to explode the myth of Republican primacy of national security.’

According to The Economist in a 2013 article, we were told:

It has a non-profit arm, which incubates protests and accepts donations. This is cross-subsidised by its for-profit arm, which makes money in a variety of ways.

It sells consulting services to big companies … It helps them to build mass movements to support their favourite causes.

Purpose Campaigns Pty Ltd was registered in Australia by Heimans and Madden on 27 April 2005. GetUp! was registered two days later and launched in August 2005, and various reports at the time stated that GetUp! had received pledges of $1.5 million in financial support prior to launching. In 2009, Anne Coombs, a former GetUp! board member and benefactor stated:

Initially most of GetUp!’s funding came from a handful of wealthy and progressive individuals, plus some union money.

But whether it received Soros or Phoenix Group money, either directly or indirectly—or a home-grown replica—there is no doubt that GetUp! was inspired by such Soros inspired and funded groups.

But the connections between GetUp! and Soros do not end here. Together with global civic advocacy group Res Publica and, Heimans and Madden cofounded Avaaz, a New York-based global online activist platform, which launched in January 2007. Avaaz’s establishment was facilitated by seed funding from George Soros via Res Publica. In 2008 Res Publica received $250,000 from Soros’s Open Society Institute specifically earmarked for Avaaz: $150,000 for general support and $100,000 for work on climate change. In 2009 Soros’s Open Society Foundation gave Avaaz $600,000: $300,000 in general support and an additional $300,000 for climate campaigning. This was also via Res Publica, a very intricate web.

Brett Solomon, who was GetUp!’s executive director from 2005 to 2008, went to Avaaz as campaign director before founding and becoming executive director at Access Now, a so-called digital rights advocacy group. Access Now received $50,000 in start-up funding from and $46,800 from Avaaz. Phil Ireland, appointed to GetUp!’s board in February, has also done well from the Soros network. Ireland is managing director of the Online Progressive Engagement Network, which facilitates multinational campaigns on issues like climate change, trade and corporate accountability. It was founded by another and Avaaz graduate, Ben Brandzel. He has also been a senior adviser at Purpose Campaigns, involved with a climate change campaign, Here Now, and played a central role in establishing Purpose Campaigns’ London office. Ireland is also vice-chair of the Board of Directors of the Global Campaign for Climate Action, of which Avaaz is a partner organisation.

Among the documents hacked from the Open Society Foundation is a 2010 memo to George Soros which discusses the potential of the Global Campaign for Climate Action as part of an international mobilisation for climate action. The memo discusses facilitating this movement inter alia to Avaaz, which the memo describes as follows: ‘Avaaz is already an Open Society Foundation grantee and close collaborator. Avaaz provides agile, online campaigning capacity in the international arena. Climate has emerged as one of the Avaaz community’s top issues.’

This pattern of Soros backed activist organisations multiplying and nurturing others has, sadly, proliferated to Australia, with Avaaz giving GetUp! a total of $195,618 from 2013 to 2015. GetUp! has recently disclosed donations of $42,961 received from its German activist equivalent, Campact, along with $39,000 from Purpose Campaigns. So, despite endorsing a ban on foreign donations, GetUp! obviously not only has no problem with receiving them, it actually solicits them on its website via PayPal.

With the resignation of David Madden from the board of GetUp! in the last few days, following Jeremy Heimans’s resignation in February, Phil Ireland looks very much like Purpose’s guy on the GetUp! board. He also is Labor’s guy on GetUp!’s board, having been Labor’s campaign director in the Hunter region and the convenor of the Labor Environment Action Network, not to mention an organiser for United Voice.

The documents hacked from Soros’s Open Society Foundations also confirm the organisation’s extensive activities in supporting an ugly anti-Israel agenda. In particular, they detail numerous grants to organisations advocating for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign and worse. They also include a 2014 portfolio review by the Open Society Foundations’ Arab Regional Office of its Palestine/Israel international advocacy, which states that the rise of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement, and other economic levers, are new opportunities it may choose to exploit. The review notes:

The international solidarity movement is growing in influence and becoming more mainstream at a time the pro-Israel community is increasingly viewing it as an existential threat to the state. This movement presents opportunities but also risks, particularly in relation to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement that is expanding in reach and influence but remains controversial in many spheres.

Then, in outlining ‘the way forward’, this review of the Open Society Foundations’ Arab Regional Office grant portfolio says this:

In parallel, grantees and other actors have been extensively engaged in the intersection of business and human rights—pursuing corporate accountability and adherence to national and international laws …

…   …   …

Whether or not OSF does advocacy in its own name in support of this new agenda or merely finances and does light touch organizing behind the scenes, we will still have to contend with the possibility of public scrutiny whether in the media or elsewhere, though we have avoided such attention to date.

I would say that this is compelling evidence of the Open Society Foundations’ support for the ugly BDS campaign and its sinister, behind-the-scenes operations, deliberately seeking to avoid public scrutiny.

And, surprise, surprise, Avaaz is in the forefront of anti-Israel campaigns and, in particular, the BDS campaign. Avaaz vows that it will ‘keep pushing until all companies financing the occupation of Palestine withdraw their investments’.

It therefore comes as no surprise that, in Australia, GetUp! has edged closer and closer to advocating for Palestinian causes and the BDS campaign. On 27 January 2009, under the heading ‘GetUp! takes on Israel/Palestine’, Antony Loewenstein recounted how he:

… was contacted last week by Get Up! to begin an online debate about this subject, as a way for the group to dip its toe into the problem.

In 2012, GetUp!’s CommunityRun platform hosted a petition by BDS activist Jennifer Killen to ‘help save Susiya village’—a disputed settlement near Hebron. GetUp!’s CommmunityRun website also hosts a petition supporting controversial Sydney university academic Jake Lynch and his misnamed Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies’s boycott of Israel. A disclaimer on the CommunityRun website notes that CommunityRun campaigns are not run or endorsed by GetUp!

In February this year, GetUp! appointed a young Palestinian activist who has supported the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign for many years to its board. Saleh has been a BDS supporter since at least 2011. In a 2014 Facebook post, she criticised Kmart for stocking SodaStream—a BDS target of the ‘electronic intifada’ campaign, which saw SodaStream close its West Bank plant in 2015 and, perversely, saw hundreds of Palestinian workers lose their jobs.

Since her appointment to the GetUp! board, Saleh has continued to urge support for the BDS campaign and, during a speech to the Australians for Palestine symposium held on 31 March this year, she said: ‘We must force Israel into a perennial state of existential anxiety.’ Asked whether GetUp! would take up the Palestinian cause, she said this: ‘It does come up. It’s not something that they have worked on in the past. So maybe it’s something we can put on the agenda. But they’re definitely aware, and it’s definitely something that they’re happy to support in their propensity, and maybe in the future as well.’ While not explicitly endorsing the ugly anti-Israel BDS agenda, it is clear where GetUp!’s sympathies and propensity really lie, and it is clear that the appointment of Sara Saleh to GetUp!’s board reflects George Soros’s agenda.

So, in its personnel, its operating model, its financing, and, more particularly, its agenda, GetUp! faithfully perpetuates most of the worrying concerns of its progenitor, George Soros. GetUp! has now been fully exposed as Soros’s local Australian franchise, operated as a joint venture by the Greens, Labor and the unions. GetUp! grooms its members, using their naive interest in one campaign to manipulatively enlist them in other campaigns and to funnel them into voting for the left.

There is something particularly repugnant about an organisation which claims to be independent and non-partisan but is actively partisan; which, at each election, goes through a charade of ‘independently’ assessing the various political parties’ policies, when the result is a foregone conclusion; and which pretends to educate young people about policy issues while taking advantage of their political inexperience.

The question GetUp! participants must ask themselves next time they are ‘consulted’ about what GetUp!’s priorities should supposedly be, and next time they receive GetUp!’s slick social media content or glib takes on topical issues, is: do they reflect the agenda of GetUp! participants or George Soros’s agenda?

Be assured, it will be the latter.

I notice a recent report that GetUp! considers a ban on foreign donations to be ‘low-hanging fruit’ at present, and a few days ago GetUp! unabashedly tweeted that ‘everyone agrees we need to fix the influence big business has on our politics’. Yet GetUp! is so deep rooted in the big business Soros operating model as to render this tweet absolutely laughable.

In the last two years GetUp! has received over $275,000 from overseas based organisations. Apart from the hypocrisy, if any organisation represents or embodies the sinister and unhealthy aspects of foreign donations and foreign interests in our domestic Australian body politic, it is surely Soros’s sinister influence on GetUp! itself. I trust that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, when considering the last election, will give these matters due consideration.

Link to parliamentary Hansard