Gil gains young voters' affection

'Saving grandpa' and 'fury' at other politicians boosted support for Pensioners' Party.

Gil pensioners 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Gil pensioners 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Gil Pensioners' Party might be aimed at helping retirees, but on Election Day it also appealed to those who haven't even started working. Make that sex appeal. On Tuesday, three high school students chopped their Pensioners' Party T-shirts high enough to reveal their midriffs and navel rings and cheered at passersby: "Vote for the pensioners! Save our grandpa!" Aside from affection for their elders, the girls seemed to have few other party convictions.
Elections 2006
When it came to international relations, one girl declared that her new MKs "are going to free Jackson Pollard." When asked if she meant Jonathan Pollard, the jailed American spy whom former Mossad agent and current party chairman Rafi Eitan handled, the answer was: "Who's that?" The teenagers weren't the only party partisans who didn't know much about the organization they helped propel to a surprising seven mandates. Daniel King, 26, said he that if the party had any agenda other than advancing seniors' interests, he wasn't aware of it. But King added that the new MKs didn't seem to have any idea either. Watching them post-election, he said, "They looked as if they didn't have a clue." After scrutinizing every other party's platform, King explained that he voted for a party that didn't seem to have one because he was dissatisfied with all his choices. "It was a protest vote," he said. Indeed, pollster Rafi Smith attributed most of the party's success to protest voting: "The Israeli voter is a new voter. They decided if you want a bang, we'll give you a big bang." Smith said Israelis "were furious at their politicians," and noted that the party garnered votes from across the political spectrum. The common denominator, he added, was that "they picked up from everyone who didn't believe in their parties." For those that wanted to vote but didn't want to back an established party, Smith explained, the Pensioners' Party represented a "neutral" choice, with "an issue that no one can go against." Only 60 percent of the party's support came from voters older than 60, while 10% of its voters were younger than 29, according to Smith. He added that the popularity of the party, especially among younger voters, could also be ascribed to its becoming trendy. And once the trend started, he said, "it worked like a disease, like the chicken pox." One of the reasons earlier polls hadn't picked up on the party's potential, he said, was because it only broke out in the past week. The decisive moment was when it showed up as passing the Knesset threshold. "[People] didn't want to throw away their vote and they wanted to vote," he said. "It helped attract those who were undecided." Orli Jackson Cohen, 25, said indications that the party would pass the threshold encouraged her to cast her ballot for it instead of bigger parties she disliked. "I thought my vote would be more influential," she explained. "I thought they needed my vote, and it turns out they didn't." She was pleased that the group ended up with so much support, since it represents "an important issue." But not everyone is happy with the party's success. Yaffa Ya'ar agreed that aid to the elderly was needed. But the Labor voter called the Pensioners' Party a "gimmick" that wouldn't necessarily do as much good as it seemed. "Having a stronger Labor and Meretz means they could have gotten a better position in the coalition and [help implement] Amir Peretz's policies, which are intended to benefit the entire population, not just a special group," the 28-year-old said. She was also troubled by the large number of people who voted for a party about which they knew little. She pointed to possible tensions with the US given Eitan's past and questions about the party's position on women's issues. "These are traditional, old Israeli men," she said. "That concerns me." The "old" character of the party is what worried Haim, a 30-year-old National Religious Party voter. He quipped, "I hope they have enough people on their list that they can survive four years in the Knesset." Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.