An example to the downtrodden?

This is not the first time a pensioners' party has run for Knesset; Power to the Pensioners ran several times, never successfully.

elderly voting 88 298 (photo credit: AP)
elderly voting 88 298
(photo credit: AP)
The Pensioners Party's success would seem to have caused a light to go on for all sorts of other activists representing struggling Israeli sub-populations who likewise get a lot of public sympathy, such as the handicapped or battered women. If the pensioners can win seven seats this time, why couldn't they at least win a couple the next time? Why not start an array of single-issue parties for homosexuals, agunot, the homeless and other sizeable populations fighting for a better deal from Israeli society? The most obvious candidates, the handicapped, actually debated whether to run in this election, says Roni Schechter, acting chairman of Human Rights for Disabled People, which has mounted major hunger strikes and demonstrations by the handicapped in recent years. The number of Israelis "officially" recognized as handicapped - those receiving state disability benefits - is about 180,000. "Some of our people used Shas as an example of what we could achieve by running as a party," says Schechter. However, the idea was turned down and Schechter says he's glad. "We want to integrate into the mainstream of Israeli society and not be seen as a 'sector,'" he says. "The interests of the handicapped, like the interests of the pensioners, shouldn't be the business of seven MKs, but of 120 MKs." So Schechter doesn't see the Pensioners Party's success as a step in the right direction for Israel's disadvantaged. He prefers trying to get all the parties to adopt the cause, which is the stragegy the handicapped have been following. "All the different parties address our needs in their platforms," Schechter notes. But do these parties sufficiently address the needs of the handicapped at budget time? "No," Shechter acknowledges, "but that's our goal." Ruth Rasnic, an Israeli pioneer in the fight against domestic violence, headed the Women's Party in the 1977 and 1992 elections. It ran on the issues of domestic violence, equal pay for women, recognition of housewives' rights to employee benefits and other feminist issues. By 1992 this was a fairly popular platform, especially the plank against domestic violence; the constituency for such a party seemed substantial. Yet the Women's Party received about one-third of one percent of the vote in 1992, hopelessly out of the running for a Knesset seat. Rasnic, 73, blames her party's poor showing on its lack of money for a decent campaign. And while she is enthusiastic about the Pensioners Party, she doesn't think its success offers encouragement for yet another run for office by the Women's Party. "We saw Pnina Rosenbloom run at the head of a women's party a few years ago, with serious running mates like [former Na'amat chairwoman] Masha Lubelsky and [businesswoman/socialite] Galia Albin. They had a lot of money, too, but they didn't make it into the Knesset," Rasnic notes. What Shechter and Rasnic will say is that the Pensioners Party is a natural "address" for their contituents' demands, and that they plan to be visiting this address soon. "I believe the pensioners are not only in this for themselves, they all have families, they also worry about the problems of children, of young couples, of the sick of all ages," Rasnic says. "As for our issues, the pensioners have daughters and granddaughters. And remember, most pensioners are women." Ben-Izri, for his part, invites the range of Israel's disadvantaged to bring their concerns to the Pensioners Party. "Our party will include other sectors, we want them to be our partners," he maintains. However, he does not believe the pensioners' success can be easily repeated by other groups, even one with widespread popular support such as the handicapped. "They're not a large enough population to get into the Knesset. We have 750,000 people," notes Ben-Izri, a former long-time top official with Kupat Holim Clalit who now heads the 35,000-member Central Pension Fund. This is not the first time a pensioners' party has run for Knesset; Power to the Pensioners ran several times, never successfully. Its leader, former Labor MK Gideon Ben-Rafael, returned to his original party for this election, running as number 26 on the Labor list, which won only 19 seats. The 2006 election, however, featured a number of "special circumstances," as Rasnic puts it, that opened a path to success for Rafi Eitan's party. For one, the election seemed locked up for Kadima from the start, allowing people to cast a "safe" vote for a sentimental favorite. Second, as Rasnic points out, "the demise of Shinui left a large vacuum. A lot of secular people went looking for an alternative that wouldn't require them to think about it too much."- L.D.