Former Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu is to spend the Hanukkah holiday in Moscow with members of Russia's ultra-Orthodox Lubavich Jewish community, the Israel embassy said Thursday.
President Vladimir Putin has also been invited to join in the community's festival of light celebrations by Rabbi Berl Lazar, the main rival of Russia's Chief Rabbi Adolf Chayevich.
Kremlin officials would not say whether Putin would attend.
Netanyahu was due in Moscow later Thursday and would leave again Friday after the celebrations, an Israeli embassy spokesman said.
Until earlier this week, Netanyahu was touted as being a shoo-in for his former job, with voter-intention polls putting him way ahead in elections to be held for the Israeli prime ministership in February.
However, his bid to return to office less than two years after being beaten by the current premier, Ehud Barak, was spoiled when the Israeli parliament refused to disband, opening the way for new legislative elections.
Netanyahu had vowed not to pursue election as prime minister if there were not also a new parliament.
Lazar was elected Russia's chief rabbi last June by his own organisation, the Russian Federation of Jewish Communities.
But his position is contested by the Russian Jewish Congress, headed by Media-Most tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, whose media group has been a constant critic of Putin.
There has been a marked rapprochement between the Kremlin and Lazar since Putin came to power. In September, Putin attended the inauguration of a new Moscow synagogue along with Lazar.
Gusinsky is currently under detention in Spain pending a ruling on an extradition demand by Russia to face allegations of embezzling 250 million dollars -- MOSCOW (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)