Holocaust survivors' party teams up with pro-marijuana offshoot
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(Israel) The Green Leaf Graduates, which split from the political party Aleh Yarok, best known for its advocacy of the legalization of cannabis, is making waves with its most recent announcement: a plan to incorporate the Holocaust Survivors Party.
Holocaust survivor Yaakov Kfir in one of Green Leaf Graduates' commercials.
The Holocaust survivors are focused on the controversial issue of their state pension disbursement, which has been weakened by rising demands among the country's retired workers.
The party accuses the government of misappropriating funds, donated by Germany, that were supposed to be given to Holocaust survivors. The survivors' party alleges that instead, those monies have been paid in part to thousands of other Israelis who have no connection to the Holocaust, to ease the government's pension burden.
Yaakov Kfir, the party's leader, said he joined forces with the Green Leaf Graduates to attract more attention to the survivors' cause.
"The fact that I am interviewed by so many media outlets indicates that the decision to hook up with the Aleh Yarok graduates was smarter than if I had chosen to go with a larger, more solid party," Kfir said on Wednesday.
"And that is a shos ['terrific' in Hebrew slang], as the youngsters taught me. The voice of the Holocaust survivors is finally being heard, and this is how I hope to get to the 350,000 Holocaust survivors and their offspring."
Kfir, a 74-year-old survivor from Petah Tikva, has campaigned for better health care for survivors for 25 years. But after a series of political defeats, he finally chose to get involved in the process directly.
"I have decided that 'if I am not for myself - who will be?' It's time we take care of ourselves, and this might be our last chance to make sure that, despite the fact we had no childhood, we at least reach old age decently and even be allowed to use medical marijuana if the need emerges," Kfir said.
Michelle Levine, a spokeswoman for the Green Leaf Graduates, voiced strong support for Kfir's cause. She described the government's failure to address the concerns of Holocaust survivors as a "national disgrace" and hoped that younger voters drawn to the party would be given additional incentive to vote in order to support the survivors' cause.
"People who would vote for the survivors right now are all older. [The survivors' party] wants to get younger people involved, like the Pensioners Party did before," said Levine, referring to the Gil Party's surprising 2006 success, which was fueled largely by disillusioned young voters.
She was forthright about the Green Leaf Graduates' intention to use support for the survivors' cause to further its own agenda of legalizing marijuana and said that the survivors had no problem with the issue.
"They say to us that at their age they don't see why [marijuana] is an issue," she continued. "They don't consider it drugs. They even have friends who have cancer or something who are ashamed to ask for a prescription. Easier access to medical marijuana is something we're fighting for."
But despite the Green Leaf Graduates' electoral expectations, the new partnership has flummoxed many in the Knesset, including the major parties. Labor representative Colette Avital wondered why the Holocaust survivors' party did not join a party where it "has a better chance."
"It doesn't make too much sense to me," said Avital, speaking to The Jerusalem Post by phone on Wednesday, on her way to a meeting with a group of, among others, Holocaust survivors. "The issues confronting survivors are much too serious to be mixed up with something else."
Avital claimed that survivor issues were an integral part of the Labor platform and that Labor "would be more than happy to include" the survivors' party.
"In a way it's a shame because I'm not sure they'll even be able to get in," she said. "It's a waste of votes. I haven't got a clue why they aren't talking [to Labor]."
In a statement issued earlier, Kfir painted a very different picture.
"We, the Holocaust survivors have voted time after time for the same people who go and betray us," he said, citing a broad feeling among survivors that their concerns are not being taken seriously by mainstream political parties.
"This is why I have decided to turn to the young voters and to convince them to vote for us, so we - their grandparents - get what we deserve: full medical treatments and nursing, if we need it."
By MAX SOCOL AND SHELLY PAZ
January 28, 2009