A ROW has broken out after a pro-Israel lobby group was approved at Holyrood in a bid to counter claims that MSPs are overly hostile to the state.

MSPs from all parties, with the exception of the Scottish Greens, will be represented on the 'Building Bridges with Israel' cross-party group, which aims to establish closer cultural, academic and economic links with the country.

It has been set up in a bid to oppose anti-Semitism and offer an 'alternative viewpoint' to what it says is a pro-Palestinian stance that has been dominant since the Scottish Parliament's inception in 1999.

The group will hold its first meeting early in the New Year, with members including Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie, Labour's Mary Fee and SNP MSP John Mason.

Jackson Carlaw, the Tory MSP who will act as convenor of the group, said: "This is not going to be a group that will simply be an apologist for the Government of Israel. This is not a group being set up with a view to having a row with anyone or being antagonistic. It's genuinely there to seek to have bridges build between the Jewish community, Scotland and the state of Israel.

"But it is sadly true that there have been more anti-Israel motions in the Scottish Parliament than all of the other parliaments of the EU put together. I think that is evidence underpinning the suggestion that it has not been an even-handed discussion.

"There is a long-standing Jewish community in Scotland and they are very keen to see their parliament recognise them in the way that other communities and countries have been."

Responding to vocal critics of Israel in Scotland, he added: "I regard Israel as the only democratic state in that region. I'm not a fundamentalist in relation to these issues, I think the more we have an ongoing dialogue and an opportunity for all sides to participate so much the better."

At a debate in February, Ken Macintosh, now Holyrood's presiding officer, said that support in Scotland for the plight of the Palestinians had turned into a "hostility against Israel" that he described as "one sided, inaccurate and, in the end, incredibly unhelpful and damaging." He warned that MSPs may have played a part in a process that saw anti-Israel sentiment in danger of becoming "rooted in civic Scotland".

Organisations represented on the cross party group include Bridges for Peace, which promotes Christian/Jewish relations and backs "Israel’s divine God-given right to exist in her God-given land." Also represented is The Britain Israel Alliance, which is calling on the UK to intervene in the Middle East to "stop the terrorists".

There is already a Holyrood cross-party group on Palestine.

Mick Napier, a spokesman for the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, strongly opposed the group's message. He said: "It's revealing that they masquerade as 'building bridges'. Of course, Israel doesn't build any bridges, it demolishes homes, farms and is demolishing Palestine.

"So, this is an effort to change the subject from what Israel is doing in Palestine to a phony attempt to build bridges. It reprises the efforts of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, when they couldn't defend what they were doing, to talk about 'constructive engagement.

"While frequent massacres take place, and Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, the UN, every other human rights group that's looked at the situation say that Israel is guilty of war crimes, then we'll see a worldwide movement of support for the victims.

"Anybody who balances between the victims and the perpetrators really should look at their own moral compass."