Angry pensioners protest government's failed promises on benefits

Protestors held banners that read "Market prices are rising but pensions are falling," and "Olmert, we don't all have funding from abroad."

pensioners 88 (photo credit: )
pensioners 88
(photo credit: )
Holding banners that read "Market prices are rising but pensions are falling," and "Olmert, we don't all have funding from abroad," hundreds of pensioners from across the country gathered outside the Knesset Monday to protest the fact that the government coalition's commitment to increase old age benefits have still not been fulfilled. The hour-and-a-half long protest also drew out Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, both from Labor, as well as other Knesset members, who highlighted the fragility of the current coalition and committed to taking up the pensioners' battle within the legislature. "Two-and-a-half years ago, when coalition agreements were being made for this government, Labor and Kadima promised to raise pensions between 15-20 percent but still nothing has been done," Gideon Ben-Israel, chairman of the Senior Citizens Organization, told The Jerusalem Post at the protest. "We are worried that [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert's days are numbered, that he will be forced to step down and the issue of our pensions will be forgotten." "There is a big problem with this coalition and you have a right to be protesting here today," Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines told those gathered. "You are the generation who built this country, and you shouldn't have to suffer the weakness of the current government." Other MKs who spoke at the protest included Orit Noked (Labor), Dov Henin (Hadash) and Muhammad Barakei (Hadash). "These are the people that built this country and it's an embarrassment that the government has not dealt with this issue," Hadas Alcorat, who runs 11 pensioners day clubs in Rishon Lezion, told the Post. "I see it close up every day, these people live off of NIS 3,000 a month per couple and its just not enough to pay for all their medications, utility bills and for them to eat day-to-day." "I am a religious man and I pray every day," complained pensioner Ya'akov Benjoya from Bat-Yam. "I gave 59 years of my life to this country and suffered through four wars and still I don't even have enough money to finish out the month. This government has done nothing to [address] the plight of pensioners and I regret ever voting for the [Gil] Pensioner's Party." While the main thrust of Monday's demonstration was to protest the government's inaction on improving the quality of life for the country's more than 700,000 elderly citizens, most of those interviewed by the Post Monday also expressed disillusionment with the Pensioners Party, which used the pensioners' socioeconomic plight as its main platform. "We are not interested in Gil, nothing has changed for us since they came into power and the [Pensioners' Affairs] Ministry was created," accused Ben-Israel. In recent weeks, Pensioners Party MK Moshe Sharoni has been threatening to break off from the party and form a new opposition faction loyal to Russian-Israeli billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak. On Monday, however, Sharoni backed down from such a split, which could cause the current coalition to become even more unstable.