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(photo credit: GPO)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert waded deep into the divisive Russian political scene during his recent trip to Moscow, attending two different affairs sponsored by two different Jewish organizations supporting two different chief rabbis and funded by two different Jewish billionaires.
On Wednesday night he went to an event under the patronage of Arkadi Gaydamak at Moscow's central synagogue, and on Thursday he attended a similar affair sponsored by Lev Leviev.
Olmert's decision to attend events open to the wider Jewish community alongside school children and just plain folk is telling, especially in light of the fact that it has been years since an Israeli prime minister has gone to a community event at a synagogue during a visit to the United States, not just for big money men or lobbyists, but for members of the wider community.
It has been years since an Israeli premier, for instance, has - on a trip to the White House - attended an event at a synagogue in Silver Spring, Maryland, where an 8th grade Hebrew school kid could enthuse that he saw the Israeli PM in person.
So why in Russia? The answer, of course, has to do with Israeli politics.
It is not as if a visit to a Chabad community center in Moscow is going to win Olmert votes among Israel's Russian-speaking population. Most Russian immigrants will not be overly impressed that Olmert hummed along with a Russian Jewish boys choir singing a song from the traditional liturgy translated into Russian.
But this will win him points with Leviev, and Olmert's attendance at the function the night before will win him points with Gaydamak. And these two men, with their not-insubstantial means, are people that politicians - all politicians - like to get close to.
Olmert was effusive in his praise for Leviev Thursday. "This is my third visit to this important center in Moscow," he said, adding that he had seen other such centers in other locales in far-flung areas of Russia. "All were funded by one man, one man who sees these centers as his mission in this world. A special person: Lev Leviev."
He continued to sing Leviev's praises, devoting a good portion of his short speech to the Jewish community - a speech in which he called on the Jews in Russia, despite the comfort they are currently enjoying there, to make aliya - to complimenting the Chabad-affiliated Russian-speaking tycoon.
But what's in it for Leviev and Gaydamak? These men don't need Olmert to raise their stature among the local Jewish community; their status is already quite high as a result of their substantial charitable activities.
Rather, according to officials in the local Jewish community, their ability to get Olmert to come to their events raises their standing in the eyes of Russian President Vladimir Putin. And an increase of stature in Putin's eyes is important for any self-respecting billionaire with big business interests, or big plans, in Russia.