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(photo credit: AP)
At the start of the election campaign, it looked like the wealthy Kadima Party enjoyed an advantage over its cash-struck competition, Likud and Labor, due to party funding laws that allocate funds based on how many MKs parties currently have.
Then came Operation Cast Lead, which has eliminated three key weeks from the campaign and, according to officials in parties across the political spectrum, has leveled the political playing field.
The day the fighting began, the Likud reached a deal to run together with MK Effi Eitam's Ahi Party, to gain a much-needed boost in its election budget.
In return for placing former Beit Shemesh mayoral candidate Shalom Lerner of Ahi in slot 39 on the joint list, the Likud received Ahi's NIS 12 million in state funding for the election, upping the party's budget to NIS 40m.
A Likud official said the shortening of the campaign had made the race fairer, because it was hard for the party to keep up with Kadima when its budget was two and a half times that of the Likud.
Labor, which has been on the verge of bankruptcy for years, also benefitted from the race being shorter, but party officials downplayed the difference and said its impact was not nearly as much as the nonstop positive exposure its party chairman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, has received during the operation in the Gaza Strip even though he has not given a single interview.
"The impact of the race being shorter is negligible because the public relations budget and the campaign commercials are what really cost money," Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel said.
A team working on Kadima's election commercials met Tuesday with the party's campaign chair, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik. Televised party advertisements begin on January 27, assuming the election will not be postponed due to the war.
Smaller parties that are upset that the three largest parties have dominated the airwaves in wartime news coverage have decided to begin campaigning, despite an unsigned agreement between all the parties at the start of the operation to refrain from campaigning until the fighting ended.
The Bayit Hayehudi Party held its opening rally in Givat Shmuel on Tuesday, Hadash did the same on Wednesday in Jerusalem and the Green-Meimad Movement announced on Wednesday that it would host a massive opening rally at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on Sunday even if the war did not end by then.
"We could no longer abandon the political playing field to the large parties," a Green-Meimad spokesman said. "The kids have gone back to school, the soccer players are back, and now we are back, too."
At the Bayit Hayehudi event, MK Zevulun Orlev did not hold back any attacks at his party's political competition, despite the anti-political atmosphere during the war.
"The National Union has people who throw stones at soldiers, Shas suddenly realized where Homesh was and the Likud has harmed the religious public more than any other party," Orlev reportedly said.