As a delegate to the Israeli Communist Party (Maki) 2012 congress I was able to find out about its role in Israel's growing social protest movement. Read the Congress report back from CP representative, Mary Davis.

Maki is a small party with a big influence and an important tradition. It is the only party in Israel with Jewish and Arab members which alone makes it a vital part of Israel's labour movement. It steadfastly supports the two-state solution.

Over the summer of 2011, a huge wave of protest engulfed Israel. The profile of participants was diverse - afflicted middle strata, middle and low-waged employees, residents of popular neighbourhoods, women, students - almost all of them workers.

The protest camps raised in Arab and mixed Arab-Jewish communities were led by Maki and emphasised the struggle's developing Arab-Jewish character.

The participation of the Arab public in the protest is doubly significant. First, because this public suffers greatly from lack of housing, diminished social services and a poverty rate double the national average as a result of the discriminatory policies of all Israeli governments and second, because its involvement in the social struggle was a counterstrike against the right's attempts to push Arab citizens outside the Israeli social and political arena.

What began as a protest against rising housing costs became, within a week, a wide-ranging social protest. Tent camps arose in the big cities and in poor neighbourhoods, in peripheral towns and Arab communities.

In an unprecedented climax half a million Israelis took part in huge people's rallies which combined concrete struggles and demands with a growing opposition to neoliberal policies.

Maki and the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash) came up with the slogan "Ha'am doresh tzedek hevrati" - the people demand social justice - and distributed thousands of leaflets reading "When the government is against the people, the people is against the government" with a view to sharpening the political edge of the struggle, arguing that the Netanyahu government is at base a servant of the interests of tycoons and oligarchs, not the needs of the wider public, and that for real change to occur it must be deposed.

The protest movement presented clear evidence that in Israel there are unmistakably healthy forces which can lead progressive change. This is a convincing response to the feelings of desperation which have taken hold in certain circles of the left and among the Arab population in recent years.

The renewal of the wave of social protest is a practical possibility which depends on objective conditions, on the consolidation of the protest movement's leadership and on Maki's own contribution to its organisation.

In recent years Maki has consistently acted within the Arab and Jewish publics in accordance with "mass politics," taking care to speak to the public with engaging slogans and steadily building broad partnerships in struggle. Maki has engaged in mass politics within the Arab population over many years and this is the foundation of its strength among it.

Even under difficult conditions the party has meticulously maintained its strong links to the wider public.

The historic victory of the Nazareth Front in 1975 was a manifest expression of this approach when a communist was elected mayor. Following his death in a car accident the new mayor was a Hadash member - Ramiz Jaraisy, who holds the post to this day. And International Women's Day is a public, paid holiday in Nazareth.

Indeed, I was struck by how seriously the party takes the question of the liberation of women. It notes and is utterly opposed to domestic violence of any kind. All party committees must have at least 20 per cent of seats reserved for women, and Jewish and Arab women have worked together since 1951 in the Movement for Democratic Women.

Among the Jewish public the party has managed to initiate a mass politics once again. This is an important achievement for Maki. The electoral campaign of Ir Lekulanu - "city for all" - in Tel Aviv-Jaffa in 2008 was a successful example.

Ir Lekulanu took on all the forces of the Establishment, which joined together to support the incumbent mayor, with a progressive municipal programme.

With almost no budget and running against a lavishly funded campaign it managed to mobilised thousands of volunteers and win tens of thousands of votes, including a large majority among young voters.

Hadash now has four Knesset members, three Arabs and one Jew. Indeed, the communist party MP Dov Khenin has won the Israeli Democracy Institute's Parliamentary Award.

Maki makes a distinction between zionism as a worldview and with its nationalistic, racist practice.

This does not contradict its willingness to co-operate with seekers of peace, democracy and social justice who consider themselves to be zionist. Such co-operation above and beyond ideological disagreements is essential to the promotion of social and democratic struggles and to the success of the struggle for a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Mary Davis attended the 26th congress of the Israeli Communist Party which took place from March 15-17 2012 on behalf of the Communist Party of Britain. Delegates from other progressive parties including the Communist Party of Greece, Cyprus's Progressive Party of Working People, the Communist Party of Denmark, the Left Party of Germany, the Communist Party of Portugal and the Workers Party of Belgium.

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