Pensioners' MK Defies Gov't, Loses Job

MK Moshe Sharoni (Pensioners) is the hero of the day in the Knesset, forgoing his position of power to implement a promise to his constituency.

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Ezra HaLevi,

MK Moshe Sharoni (Pensioners' Party) is the hero of the day in the Knesset, forgoing his position of power to implement a promise to his constituency.

MK Sharoni defied the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, bringing a bill for raising seniors' pensions by 20% before the Knesset's Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, which he chairs. The bill passed, and a short time later he was removed as chairman of the committee by the Knesset House Committee.

Pensioners' Party head and government Minister Rafi Eitan also opposed submitting the bill now. The differences between the two may cause a split in the party.

Sharoni called his removal from his post “an ugly move; a lynch.”  He apologized on behalf of his party for betraying its constituency by supporting the Olmert government’s 2008 budget. “I beg the forgiveness of all the pensioners who voted for us," he said.

MK Gidon Sa'ar (Likud) said there was no way to interpret the move against Sharoni except as political retribution. MK Shelly Yechimovich (Labor) said: "Sharoni's sin was in insisting on placing his loyalty to his voters above coalition discipline." MK Avshalom Vilan (Meretz) said: "this is not an act of deposing, it is a shechitah [slaughter] and an unkosher one at that. It is the beginning of the fall of the government."

While the bill passed its first Knesset reading, it is unlikely to pass its second and third readings because the new chairman of the Welfare Committee will be able to block its advancement. MK Yitzchak Galanti (Pensioners) is expected to replace Sharoni at the helm of the committee.

Sharoni was forced out of his position as caucus leader last week when he refused to recall the bill. "It is time to create a faction that will truly work for pensioners in Israel,” he declared after party leader Eitan successfully fired him. “Eitan submitted to pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office," he declared.

Sharoni has made no secret of his intention to launch his own party, which, like the Pensioners' party, will focus primarily on issues facing the elderly. He will reportedly be joined by fellow Pensioners MKs Elchanan Glazer and Sarah Merom-Shalev, both of whom voted to keep him as faction head. Sharoni will probably not create a new faction before March 2008, when the faction will be eligible for funding.

Not Sharoni’s First Rebellion
MK Sharoni threatened to have his party leave the government earlier this month after Vice-Permier Chaim Ramon announced a plan to divide Jerusalem. "The government may not talk about dividing Jerusalem. It has no mandate to do so," Sharoni said in an interview on Arutz-7.

Sharoni is a vocal opponent of PM Olmert’s participation in the upcoming Annapolis Conference, predicting "nothing good" will come from it.

The Pensioners' Party was the surprise success of the 2006 elections, when it received seven seats in the Knesset.