“We reported erroneously on February 26 that Sammy Stein was behind leaflets saying Sandra White, the SNP MSP, had retweeted anti-Semitic content on social media. Mr Stein was sympathetic to a campaign against Ms White but he was not behind the leaflets or the campaign. We apologise for the error.”

A pro-Israel activist has lost a bid to join a Holyrood group campaigning for Palestine.

In a direct challenge to long-standing parliamentary conventions, Sammy Stein wanted to attend meetings with politicians and others who are profoundly opposed to his views on the Middle East conflict.

The former Israeli soldier argued that the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Palestine should be open to all those with an interest in the topic, not just those of a specific viewpoint.

However, the group, which, like others of its kind, is essentially a private one, turned down his application.

ANALYSIS: Mr Stein may as well ask whether the SNP would accept Ruth Davidson

Mr Stein, who is chairman of Glasgow Friends of Israel, then complained to parliamentary authorities about what he regards as an “undemocratic and unfair’ decision. His appeal was also turned down.

His bid came after years of sometimes bitter animus in Scotland between supporters of rival factions in the Israel and Palestine.

Writing in today’s Herald, Mr Stein said he and two others had been refused membership of the cross-party group "without explanation".

In what could be interpreted as an allegation of anti-semitism, he added: "Apart from a desire to see peace in the Middle East, the only other thing the three of us have in common is that we are all Jewish."

The Scottish Parliament has numerous cross-party groups - or CPGs - on everything from specific illnesses to foreign countries. There is a group in support of Israel. Each group, according to Scottish Parliamentary rules, is led by MSPs and can decide which individuals or institutions from outside Holyrood can join.

ANALYSIS: Mr Stein may as well ask whether the SNP would accept Ruth Davidson

Mr Stein said that as a "Palestinian" - he was born in the Holy land - he might have expected automatic membership. He added: "I was barred. This raises serious concerns about the extent to which CPGs, which enjoy the use of Parliamentary facilities, can operate without public scrutiny or governance and arbitrarily expel and exclude anyone at any time. Crucially and disgracefully, they don’t need to explain why and repeatedly refused to do so.

"This sort of behaviour flies in the face of every tenet of good governance, openness and transparency. It is a travesty of democracy and an insult to Scotland’s Parliament within whose walls the meetings take place.”

Parliamentary insiders suggested Mr Stein’s views were a misrepresentation of the role of CPGs. Such groups are independent and set up and policed by their own members, they said. They are not statutory committees representing different view points.

A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: "The Parliament's Standards Committee confirmed in November 2017 that the CPG on Palestine was operating within the rules at that its membership is a matter for group itself."

Mr Stein is not the first to complain about not being able to attend a CPG. Last year Sputnik, the news agency described as the misinformation wing of the Kremlin by Nato and international experts, complained when it was not allowed to attend a CPG event discussing the problem Russian propaganda.

ANALYSIS: Mr Stein may as well ask whether the SNP would accept Ruth Davidson

Mr Stein’s bid to join the CPG came despite a history of conflict with the group’s co-convener, SNP MSP Sandra White.

He is understood to have faced a disciplinary action by his party, the SNP, for campaigning against Ms White, the group's convener, in the 2016 Scottish general election. 

Mr Stein’s bid to get on to the CPG on Palestine reflects wider concerns among pro-Israeli activists that they are losing the battle for hearts and minds in Scotland.

Three years ago Mr Stein and others set up a group called Glasgow Friends of Israel to combat what they see as pro-Palestinian propaganda. He says he is a champion of a two-state solution and not a hardline zionist.

Shortly after creating Friends of Israel, he told Third Force News: “Pro-Palestinian groups have enjoyed a free run as they set about promoting their own unbalanced agenda.

“They portray themselves as victims of a massive miscarriage of justice, hoping to appeal to the innate Scottish support for the perceived underdog.

“They succeeded up to a point because there was no-one to present the facts in a more balanced way and counter their misleading propaganda.”

Mr Stein has also tried to win over the SNP, which is traditionally supportive of Palestinians. Last year he manned a stall at a party conference and spoke in debate, bemoaning the failure, as he saw it, of Palestinian refugees to lose their national identity after decades outside their homeland. Mr Stein has written in favour of Donald Trump’s move to recognise Jerusalem as capital of Israel, a decision widely condemned by Scottish and international politicians as jeopardising the peace process.

The Palestine CPG has a largely number of diverse members, including radical campaigning groups, and Christians and Jews. It has frequently been critical of Israel, including in respect of military action in the Gaza strip.

ANALYSIS: Mr Stein may as well ask whether the SNP would accept Ruth Davidson

Claudia Beamish MSP, Ross Greer MSP and Sandra White MSP, co-convenors of the Cross Party Group on Palestine, said: “The Cross Party Group on Palestine and the Scottish Parliament overall have a proud record of standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people in pursuit of a just peace.

“It is essential that our Cross Party Group remain a safe space for Palestinian refugees in particular, many of whom have suffered terribly at the hands of the illegal Israeli occupation. The chair of Glasgow Friends of Israel has openly called for Palestinian refugees to give up their Palestinian identity and ‘assimilate’ into whichever country they have been forced to flee to, an appalling suggestion. We will continue to unequivocally defend the rights of Palestine, the Palestinian people and Palestinian culture to freely exist.”