Gil MKs under fire from rights group

"They only care about their positions and not about who they represent."

Gil pensioners 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Gil pensioners 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
After the announcement Wednesday that the Gil Pensioners Party had signed its coalition agreement with Kadima, the head of elderly rights organization Ken Lazaken (Yes to the Elderly) slammed the party's representatives for already failing to keep their pre-election promises to make real improvements in the situation of Israel's 700,000 pensioners. Natan Levon, chairman of Ken Lazaken told The Jerusalem Post that Gil MKs were "only worried about themselves and their positions in the government and did not care about the people they went to the Knesset to represent." He said that before the elections politicians across the board had signed a declaration promising to fight for pensioners' rights in the areas of economic aid and health, but that in the month since the election "all we have heard in the media is fighting over portfolios." "We still have not received any sign that the incoming Knesset will deal with the wide-ranging issues facing the country's pensioners," Levon said earlier in the day, just prior to the organization's press conference in Tel Aviv. "Both the pensioners party and Labor promised that they would restore the cuts that have taken place in pensioners' benefits over the past nine years, but all we hear in the media is talk about portfolios. Nothing is clear, nothing is concrete." MK Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, No. 2 on the Gil list, responded to Levon's comments by saying that the party had already sent out information to rights groups outlining what the party, which won an unexpected seven mandates in the March 28 election, had already achieved in the political arena. "Their demands are wide-ranging; there is no way we can fix the problems of the last 10 years in one meeting," stated Ben-Yizri. Wednesday afternoon the party announced that it had signed the coalition agreement with Kadima. Under the agreement, party chairman Rafi Eitan is to be appointed to the new post of minister for senior affairs, while Ben-Yizri would take over the Health Ministry portfolio. The agreement signed after a four-hour meeting at the Kfar Maccabiah Hotel in Ramat Gan promises Gil NIS 650 million for its causes and an additional NIS 100 million that will be added to 2007 state budget. "The amount is still not enough to replace what was taken away from pensioners over the past nine years," said Levon. According to statistics gathered by Ken Lazaken, of the 700,000 elderly people in Israel, 25 percent live under the poverty line. This number is an increase of 4% from five years ago. Only 24% of elderly households enjoy a pension and more than 150,000 elderly are eligible for food relief. The statistics also indicate that 45,000 people visit soup kitchens daily. At the press conference, the organization called for three basic issues to be met by the new government: restoration of benefits for the elderly, including a special package for disabled elderly and a twice-a-year raise in the amount of the basic pension; reforms in the health basket to include financial aid for institutionalized elderly and financial aid to help pay for day-to-day caregivers and essential equipment such as hearing aids and glasses. "We hope the parties will return to the pensioners of this country the full rights that they deserve," said Levon.