Seniors are supposed to enjoy their golden years in comfort and security, but all too often they’re denied these benefits because their pensions can’t support a lifestyle of ease.
Martin Himel’s 45-minute documentary, Pensioner Power: A Voice for Change highlights this problem in Israel, Canada and two southern European countries, Slovenia and Croatia.
Vision TV will broadcast it on Monday, August 31 at 9 p.m.
The executive producer, Moses Znaimer, is president of CARP, the non-profit Canadian Association of Retired Persons.
The film focuses much of its attention on Israel, where the Pensioner Party won seven parliamentary seats in the 2006 general election. It fared as well as it did because the cost of living had soared, leaving many pensioners to fend for themselves.
According to Himel, an Israeli-based journalist, Israel is home to one million seniors, some of whom live below the poverty line. The worst affected Israelis are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who receive minimal pensions from the government.
The first leader of the Pensioner Party, Rafi Eitan, is a senior himself. Before he retired, he worked for Israeli security agencies and was directly involved in the capture of the German war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in the early 1960s and in the Jonathan Pollard spy affair in the mid-1980s.
Eitan joined Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s cabinet, but failed to raise pensions and improve existing health plans due to quarrels among party leaders. In the 2009 election — which brought Benjamin Netanyahu back to power after a 10-year absence — the party lost all its Knesset seats, a crushing blow to pensioners.
Today, Himel reports, Eitan is trying to raise funds for stem cell research in Israel.
Himel also interviews Gidon Reicher, who was instrumental in the founding of the party. Nowadays, Reicher uses radio and theater to promote pension rights and expose scams that affect seniors. He pointedly asks why Israeli politicians fail to understand pensioners’ needs and wonders why the young generation doesn’t fully appreciate the immense contributions that seniors made to Israeli society.
Himel points out that the Pensioner Party is still active on the municipal level, holding three seats in Tel Aviv and one in Haifa.
Yair Lapid, Israel’s former finance minister, is interviewed as well. Thanks to his efforts, a special multi-million dollar fund was created to help seniors, particularly Holocaust survivors.
Susan Eng, the executive vice-president of CARP, says a significant proportion of retired Canadians cannot get by on pension payments alone. But CARP, with more than 300,000 members across Canada, has fought for improvements, having played a key role in the establishment of an Ontario pension plan, which will come into effect in the future.
Himel, who shot the film during last summer’s Gaza war, claims that pension parties are on the offensive in Slovenia and Croatia, both of which used to be part of Yugoslavia.
In Slovenia, the Desus Party, with 10 seats in the 90-member parliament, has a bright future because of the significant number of seniors in the country. The party leader is Slovenia’s foreign minister. Such is its power that Desus has brought down three governments in five years.
In Croatia, the HSU Party, with four parliamentary seats, continues to press the government for pension reform in an era of austerity.
Judging by Himel’s film, the pensioner party in Israel did not live up to expectations, but pensioner parties in Europe are trying to improve conditions for seniors, which is a cause for hope and celebration.
WHERE TO WATCH VISION TV:
Rogers 60 + 237 (GTA) • BellTV 261 • Shaw Direct 394 or check local listings