"I was happy with life... then Rafi called and asked me to enter the cruel, cold world of politics."
By ABE SELIG
Aiming to boost the sinking Gil Pensioners Party - which has seven seats in the Knesset, but has barely registered in recent polls - journalist Gideon Reicher will be running as the party's No. 2, he announced Monday at a press conference in Tel Aviv.
"I was happy with life, and then Rafi called," Reicher told a laughing audience at Beit Sokolow, referring to party head Rafi Eitan. "He asked me to enter the cruel, cold world of politics, and I agreed."
It was Eitan who led the party to its shocking success during the 2006 elections.
"I wasn't willing to deal with primaries," Reicher told reporters, as a subtle smirk spread over his face. "Running after people, taking down messages and slicing up burekas - no, I came here to work."
But a lot of work is going to be needed if the party is to get even half the number of mandates it received in 2006.
Failing to deliver on a series of promises that hoisted the once-obscure senior citizens' rights party onto the national scene, Gil is likely to be eliminated in February's elections, unless a savior - which may or may not be found in Reicher - comes to the rescue.
Even Eitan, the party's former saving grace, whose large, square-rimmed glasses and harmless demeanor are almost enough to hide his illustrious past as a Mossad agent, struggled to boast about the party's achievements over the last three years.
"We were able to raise the senior citizen's stipend by NIS 3.5 million," Eitan said. "It's not as much as we wanted, but we raised it."
In fact, Gil member MK Moshe Sharoni had demanded that the pensioners stipend be raised by billions - a move that passed a first reading in the Knesset, but never advanced further.
"We also fought for Holocaust survivors," Eitan continued. "The State of Israel had barely dealt with Holocaust survivors at all over the last 60 years, until we came and banged on the table."
But the main achievement Gil was able to attain during its Knesset tenure was the creation of the Pensioners Affairs Ministry, which Eitan heads.
A probable cause of the party's inability to make good on its election promises is the infighting that has rattled the party since its big 2006 win.
Last year Sharoni, who had been a party member since 1996, along with MKs Elhanan Glazer and Sarah Marom-Shalev, broke from Gil and formed their own pensioners faction, Tzedek L'Zaken (Justice for the Elderly).
After initially negotiating with Arkady Gaydamak's Tzedek Hevrati (Social Justice) party, Tzedek L'Zaken reached an agreement with the Tsomet Party. However, Sharoni returned Tzedek L'Zaken to Gil in October of this year, though Glazer remained with Tsomet.
Nonetheless, Reicher told reporters on Monday that he hopes to bring a new direction to the party, which will result in another good showing in February.
"What did what's-his-name say?" Reicher asked, struggling to recall the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. "I have a dream, that's it. Well, he had a dream, I have a vision."
Part of that vision, Reicher said, was to court the youth vote. Many young people are known to have voted for Gil in 2006 to protest what they saw as a lack of viable alternatives.
"We are going to continue our fight for senior citizens," Reicher said. "But we're also going to fight for young people, mainly in helping them find affordable housing. You know, everyone's busy with the problems in Gaza, or the problems with terrorists, I'm ready to work on other problems."
And for those who question Reicher's political experience, he told reporters, his experience in general is quite vast.
"I went through first and second grade at a religious school in Jerusalem, and I was an outstanding student there," he said, as the audience chuckled. "So that covers the religious population. After that, I was part of Shomer Hatza'ir on a kibbutz, so I have the secular population covered as well."
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.
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