An MP with a history of supporting anti-Israel campaigns has defended his appointment as a senior official of a new parliamentary group promoting Jewish issues.
Labour’s Gateshead MP Ian Mearns was selected as the vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Jews at its launch earlier this month.
Since entering Parliament three years ago, he has regularly supported motions proposed by anti-Israel colleagues, signing around a dozen.
Mr Mearns also backs a campaign which aims to strip the JNF of its charitable status and criticised Israel’s response to the Gaza flotilla incident.
The MP, whose constituency is home to thousands of strictly Orthodox Jews, this week said he objected to some Israeli government policies but denied he was “anti-Israel per se”. He said he had “no intention of being hijacked by either pro or anti-Israel Parliamentarians.
“I don’t see any conflict between my work for the Jewish community and the signing of an early-day motion supporting the ‘stop the JNF’ campaign. I’ve worked with the Gateshead Jewish Community Council for many years” he said.
Mr Mearns said he would be happy to meet the JNF to “gain a deeper understanding of their work and their perspectives”.
The Board of Deputies provoked anger in August when it announced it would act as the APPG’s secretariat without consulting the Jewish Leadership Council or other communal organisations.
Labour MP Louise Ellman warned in August that the group could be “hijacked” by anti-Israel campaigners.
One Westminster source said Mr Mearns’s appointment amounted to “a classic trap which the Board has blindly walked into. Their initial hubris and failure to plan properly are coming back to haunt them”. Another added: “What Louise predicted is already coming true. Mr Mearns is entitled to his views on Israel, but it may mean his APPG work proves difficult for him.”
But Bury South MP Ivan Lewis defended Mr Mearns, his former aide. Mr Lewis said that while he did not agree with every EDM related to Israel that Mr Mearns had signed, he viewed him as “somebody of great integrity who is genuinely committed to fighting antisemitism”.
He said: “He has an outstanding track-record of championing the interests of the strictly Orthodox community in Gateshead.”
Mr Mearns was also responsible several years ago for performing a citizen’s arrest on a “yob who was intimidating and abusing” a Charedi man, Mr Lewis said.
The Board said it was “delighted” by Mr Mearns’ role on the APPG and that his work with Jews in his constituency made him “an outstanding candidate” to be an officer. It dismissed as “sheer nonsense” concerns that the group could be hijacked.
A spokesman said: “The APPG does not involve itself with Israel and as you would expect its officers hold a range of views on the subject. As a supporter of a two-state solution, Mr Mearns’ views are shared by a number within the Zionist movement.”