THE SNP has distanced itself from a group of party members who organised a protest against the Israeli Prime Minister's visit to the UK, despite several of its own MPs turning up at the event.

A group called the SNP Friends of Palestine have sparked anger among some pro-Israelis in Scotland by publicising and attending the protest and stating that Benjamin Netanyahu was "not welcome" in Britain.

The honorary consul to Israel in Scotland described participation in the event as a "dreadful insult" while the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council said it was "disappointed" to learn of SNP involvement, which took place ahead of Mr Netanyahu's scheduled arrival today.

However, the newly-formed SNP group hit back, branding Mr Netanyahu a war criminal who had committed a "massacre" last year with an incursion into Gaza, which caused more than 2,000 deaths.

Yesterday, members of the SNP including 15 MPs were present alongside a series of other groups in opposition to what is expected to be a two-day visit, with a heavy police presence keeping pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian sides apart outside Whitehall and at times clashing with protestors.

Their party refused to explicitly back the position of the group, with a spokesman saying it has "no formal status within the SNP" after being asked whether it supported the SNP Friends of Palestine stance that Mr Netanyahu should not be welcome in Britain.

The spokesman added: "Party members are of course free to express their individual views on any issue, providing it is done respectfully – that is the essence of democracy."

Andy Murray, convenor of the SNP Friends of Palestine, revealed that the group would soon seek formal status within the party, having already won backing from parliamentarians in both Holyrood and Westminster.

He added: "I can't speak on behalf of the party leadership, but I am a pro-Palestinian activist as are a significant number of the 56 MPs down here. In what other society would you find people coming around the table with war criminals? The actions of Israel have been and still are illegal. I don't think any war criminal should be feted."

However, prominent pro-Israelis in Scotland expressed outrage at the involvement of the SNP in the protest. The SNP Government has previously refused to back boycotts against the country in response to its actions in Gaza, but called for an arms embargo to be imposed against Israel following last year's assault on Gaza, which it claimed was to stop rocket attacks.

Mr Murray said that while he supported a boycott of Israeli goods that came from occupied territories, the group was yet to form concrete policies but would discuss calling for an outright boycott of all products from Israel.

Paul Morron, chair of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, said: "I am disappointed that the SNP would align themselves with a protest against the Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to this country. Israel is a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. It’s a country with whom the UK has close and friendly relations.

"There is a thriving trade between the two countries and he should be welcomed to the UK. I don’t think this would be the wish of the leadership either in Scotland or the House of Commons. It’s not typical of what I would expect from the SNP."

Meanwhile, the honorary consul to Israel in Scotland said it was a "dreadful insult that the SNP Friends of Palestine are actually journeying to London to protest against an ally of this country". He claimed Israel contributed to wellbeing of the UK, manufacturing 15 per cent of the drugs used by the NHS.

He added: "Those objecting to the visit and protesting should be aware that Israel is the Middle East’s only democracy, with full and equal rights for women, gays and ethnic and religious minorities. Just think how remarkable it is that in a region where these characteristics are in short supply that a very small country in a hostile region faced with exceptional security threats has managed to sustain such a free, vibrant and tolerant society."

Responding to the criticism, Mr Murray said: "It's tolerant and democratic unless you're a Palestinian, who are all oppressed by the Israeli state."