The Gil Pensioners' Party was undoubtedly the surprise of the 2006 general elections. Undetected by any of the pre-election polls, the unknown party garnered seven Knesset seats.
The party was founded on the basis of improving the standard of living for Israel's elderly citizens. However, their platform regarding Israel's other major issues remained unknown, even to the party's own members.
The pensioners' party planned to convene a meeting on Thursday in order to iron out a platform addressing diplomatic issues. Reportedly, the members of the party would be obliged to adhere to the agreed-upon platform.
Army Radio reported that most of Gil's members supported additional withdrawals from the West Bank.
"We have experienced a total upheaval. We have turned, from a sector-specific party to a political one," party chairman Rafi Eitan confessed, "We require a few days to forge our opinion and our aims according to the size that was formed."
After the exit polls were published, a jubilant Eitan, 79, said, "We are very modest, and we will celebrate modestly, and I want to thank our activists and the retirees who have come a long way with us, and especially our many young voters."
Roni Shir, head of the party's administration, attributed the victory to a growing awareness of the needs of senior citizens and a protest by younger voters against the corruption of existing parties.
"The treatment of senior citizens is among the worst in the Western world in regards to insurance, social security and pension," he said.
Throughout the campaign, the party actively pursued younger voters, campaigning in popular pubs and restaurants and Tel Aviv University. Activists even canvassed in a popular Tel Aviv hair salon.
"The [Binyamin] Netanyahu period... made many youngsters fully aware of the problems faced by their grandparents," Shir said. "When they voted for us today, many of the voters were young people, thinking about their parents and grandparents. Nursing homes and nursing care are extremely expensive, and young people realize that they will have to pay for their parents' care, and they know they can't afford it. By voting for the Gil Party they are actually helping themselves."
The strategy was successful. As Sahar Amar, a party activist in his 20s, said, "We've had enough. This country is only 57 years old. The generation that founded this country is being treated badly."
Shir said he also believed that a vote for Gil was a vote against the Likud, Labor and Kadima.
"It was a protest vote; no one believes the big parties anymore," he said.
During Eitan's victory speech, a small group of supporters of Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in the US for spying for Israel, burst into party headquarters, contending that Eitan, who handled Pollard for the Mossad at the time of his of arrest and conviction, had abandoned him.
Throughout the campaign, pollsters did not expect the party to pass the threshold, yet now, it has enough seats to potentially become a key factor in efforts to create a coalition.
But Eitan himself remained noncommittal. "We will be in the coalition or the opposition, based on how best to advance our path, but it is too soon to say," he said. "We will consider all the possibilities."
Gil's platform includes a number of objectives, all geared toward Israel's retirees and senior citizens, such as establishing equal cost elderly-appropriate neighborhoods; including financial coverage for nursing homes and assisted living complexes within national health insurance; ensuring pensions for all citizens; improving overall medical care for the elderly and shortening waiting lists for medical treatment and senior citizens housing.
Rachel Irwin contributed to this report.
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