Tensions in Pensioners' Party

MK Moshe Sharoni, fired as faction chairman, threatened to form a new faction, but now chooses just to "make trouble from within..."

Gil Ronen and Hillel Fendel ,

The Pensioners' Party, which was the surprise success of the 2006 elections when it received seven seats in the Knesset, is facing internal tensions that threaten to split the party.

On Monday, party chairman Rafi Eitan, aged 81, announced he was firing MK Moshe Sharoni, 78, from his position as the party's Knesset faction chairman. Sharoni returned Eitan's volley by announcing he would quit and start a new party.  MKs Elchanan Glazer and Sarah Marom-Shalev were reportedly set to join Sharoni in his new party.

However, by Tuesday, Sharoni realized he had bitten off more than he could chew.  Unlikely to receive party funding, and still retaining the chairmanship of a Knesset committee, he said he would not quit.  "Why should I quit?" he asked. "I can just cause them endless trouble from within."  Upon hearing the new threat, Eitan refused to respond verbally, though he displayed consternation.

The split between Eitan and Sharoni occurred apparently due to a law Sharoni is sponsoring. The law, which would have increased senior citizens' pensions by 20%, passed the Knesset in the first reading. The Prime Minister's Office, however, pressured Minister Eitan to remove the law from the Knesset's table. Eitan passed the pressure on to Sharoni, but Sharoni refused to budge.

Eitan then initiated a faction vote to depose Sharoni as faction chairman. Four faction member
"It is time to create a faction that will truly work for pensioners in Israel. Rafi Eitan submitted to pressure from the PMO"
s voted in favor, three opposed, and MK Yitzchak Galanti was appointed chairman instead of Sharoni.

Meanwhile, Eitan faced other opposition from elderly party member Sarah Azriel, who yelled at him in the Knesset and then said he had pushed her.  Eitan said she had spit at him, even if inadvertently.

Health Minister Yaakov Ben-Yizri of the Pensioners' Party, who supported Eitan, said Tuesday that one of the reasons "for what happened yesterday is the way the discussion over the law was conducted. There are ways to find solutions for the problem of the old age pensions – by talking. What we promised the public, we are trying to carry out. There is one approach which is to hold talks and reach agreements, and another approach, which is [to demand everything] immediately, without caring about anything else. That is what the argument was about."

Eitan asked his party members rhetorically: "Why do I have to apologize when I am attacked? Folks, we got NIS 2 billion this week for the old age pensions…"

Sharoni accused his opponents of carrying out "dirty tricks," and Eitan of succumbing to pressure from the Prime Minister's Office and of not fighting for pensioners' rights.