Not voting the Gil Pensioners back into the Knesset will result in a big loss for the public, at least in the near future, party leader Rafi Eitan said on Wednesday, after election results revealed that the surprise winners of seven mandates in 2006 had failed to pass the electoral threshold.
"It's a big loss for everyone," Eitan, who is currently the Pensioners' Affairs Minister, told The Jerusalem Post. "There will now be no one in the Knesset supporting retirees and fighting their economic and other battles."
Eitan said he could not explain why support was not as forthcoming this time for the party, which in the last election garnered 185,759 votes from both young and old.
"You'll have to ask those who did not vote for me," quipped the 84-year-old former intelligence officer, who said he planned to continue fighting for pensioners' rights from outside the political establishment. "Obviously we were just not attractive enough this time."
Eitan denied that constant bickering over the last three years among his party's MKs - one of which even led to a several-months-long split - was to blame for its downfall.
"It's been at least eight or nine months since there was a dispute between us," he countered.
Although there will be no Pensioners in the next parliament, let alone in the next government, Eitan said he believed that the Pensioners Affairs Ministry, which he currently heads, would continue to exist and work to improve the quality of life for senior citizens.
"It's a ministry that was created by legislation and cannot be dismantled that easily," he said.
Pensioner's Affairs Ministry director-general Dr. Avi Bitzur told the Post Wednesday that his ministry "must continue to operate."
"In the year and a half since we have been active, it has become clear that this ministry serves a very real and valid function for the country's 730,000 elderly people," Bitzur said.
"There needs to be a single office that will treat the needs of senior citizens in a holistic way, including everything from pensions, education and health issues," he continued, adding that the age or political orientation of the next minister was not important.
"It does not matter who heads this ministry," Bitzur said. "Labor has indicated it is willing to take up this agenda, the religious parties are interested in issues concerning the elderly population, and Likud and Kadima have also both talked about it."
Bitzur admitted, however, that running such an ministry without the support of a party solely committed to pensioner's issues could be a challenge.
"At this point I don't know even if I will remain in this position, but if I am then we will do all we can to continue protecting their rights," he said.
"There does not always need to be a [specific representative] in the Knesset to get legislation passed. If I continue to be director-general then I can take on an adviser to help formulate such legislation.
"I believe that as soon as anyone takes a closer look at this ministry and really understands the issues, they will realize that it must not be closed down," Bitzur said.