Pensioners squabble over portfolios

Competing ambitions emerging in Gil as members vie for ministerial positions.

gil pensioners 298 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
gil pensioners 298 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Jubilant members and supporters of the Gil Pensioners Party gathered Sunday afternoon at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque for an official celebration of the seven seats they won in last month's elections. "Our role is to restore the honor of Israel's pensioners, which has been trampled and humiliated," Moshe Sharoni, the party's No. 3, told reporters. "We are counting on a [new] pensioners' portfolio, as well as on the Health portfolio." Yet, while the seven new MKs presented a united front, reiterating the party's pledge to care for the country's elderly and other disadvantaged sectors, competing political ambitions have already begun to emerge. Sharoni announced that he intended to compete against Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, the party's No. 2, for the second ministry the party expects to get in return for joining the coalition. "[Party chairman] Rafi Eitan will be the minister for pensioners' affairs, and I will compete for the second portfolio," Sharoni told The Jerusalem Post. Speaking to an audience of supporters and reporters, Eitan outlined the main demands his party would make during negotiations, including the restoration of a 1.5 percent cut in social security payments, an increase in National Insurance Institute pensions, a reduction in co-payments for medicine and an increase in the basic pension payment from 14.5% of the average salary to as much as 20%. Ben-Yizri similarly reiterated the party's commitment to higher pension budgets and subsidized medications and underscored its commitment to other sectors of the population, including students, single mothers and the disabled. "We are in the pocket of neither the Left nor the Right," he said. "We are independent, and we will decide our own fate and the fate of the pensioners. We have made clear that we will demand everything that a party with seven mandates deserves. We demand full representation." "The people that are here today are here because they were the volunteers and activists thanks to whom we came this far," Sharoni told the Post. "Of course, we are grateful to all 188,000 people who voted for us, and I hope we will not disappoint any sector of that population. They will be the first ones to feel our impact." Yet, as Eitan told the Post, the party has yet to build the kind of infrastructure necessary to support its goals. "We'll have to build from scratch, block by block," he said. "Right now the party has no activists in the field, no real infrastructure and organization." Eitan himself was not perturbed by the absence of economically or otherwise disadvantaged pensioners at Sunday's celebration. "There are also pensioners with ties and jackets," he said. On Monday, party representatives are scheduled to start official negotiations for entering the coalition. Although none of the party members mentioned his outlook on questions of diplomacy and foreign affairs in the course of their official speeches, Ben-Yizri told the Post this was not a pre-meditated decision. "Most retired people want a better and quieter life for themselves, their children and grandchildren," he said, adding that the party was "likely to support" a unilateral withdrawal in the event of a failure to negotiate with the Palestinians. Despite this, he said, negotiations with a Hamas-led government were "out of the question." Amir Mizroch contributed to this report.