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WASHINGTON — Israel’s ban on two Muslim members of Congress has provided an opportunity for progressive pro-Palestinian groups in America to highlight the chumminess between Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu — and to try to influence the stance of Democratic presidential candidates on the campaign trail.

“This is a watershed moment on how Democrats will engage with Israel’s increasing moves toward the far-right under Netanyahu,” said Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for Justice Democrats, which is closely aligned with Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who were both barred from entering Israel on Thursday.

The two lawmakers are among the most prominent to support the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel, which Israel considers an attack on its right to exist. Under Israeli law, its backers can be prohibited from entering the country.

The House of Representatives voted to condemn the BDS movement in a whopping 398-17 vote last month.

Pro-Palestinian activists said they saw Israel’s decision, under public pressure from President Donald Trump, to bar two members of “the squad” of freshman progressives as a chance to push the party toward the left in the midst of the 2020 campaign.

While many Democrats condemned Israel’s move on Thursday to keep the lawmakers out and Trump’s support for it, activists want them to go further.

“What we’re trying to do is make clear that what the next U.S. president needs to do in order to achieve freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians is to put direct pressure on the Israeli government to end the occupation,” Yonah Lieberman, a founder of If Not Now, a left-wing Jewish grassroots organization, told NBC News.

The close alliance between Trump and Netanyahu, he said, is “opening up space politically” for groups like his to make the case that Democrats should feel more confident in criticizing Israel’s actions.



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