U.S. Gov. Delegation Cuts Short Visit to Saudi Arabia After Rabbi Is Asked to Remove Yarmulke

By Matis Glenn

Rabbi Abraham Cooper speaks in front of civic and faith leaders Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

A United States government delegation cut short a visit with Saudi Arabian officials last week after a rabbi in attendance was asked to remove his yarmulke.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a group which advises Congress, said Monday that its chairman, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, was asked to take off his head covering when he and the vice-chair, Rev. Frederick Davie, had entered Diriyah, a historic town near Riyadh.

Cooper, who is also the Associate Dean and Global Social Action Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group, was asked by Saudi officials to not wear the yarmulke “while at the site and anytime he was to be in public, even though the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs had approved the site visit,” the Commission said in a statement.

After Cooper refused, the pair abruptly ended the tour.

“No one should be denied access to a heritage site, especially one intended to highlight unity and progress, simply for existing as a Jew,” Cooper said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia “is in the midst of encouraging change under its 2030 Vision,” Cooper continued. “However, especially in a time of raging antisemitism, being asked to remove my kippah made it impossible for us from USCIRF to continue our visit.”

The Commission noted that the incident was particularly regrettable, as it happened to “an American government agency that promotes religious freedom.”

Davie, in a statement, said that the incident was “stunning and painful.”

“It directly contradicted not only the government’s official narrative of change but also genuine signs of greater religious freedom in the Kingdom that we observed firsthand,” he said.

Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday, responded to the backlash and issued a statement, saying that the request was made due to a “misunderstanding of internal protocols,” and that its Ambassador had spoken with Rabbi Cooper.

“Regarding a recent incident in which a member of a delegation visiting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – Rabbi Abraham Cooper – was denied entry to Diriyah Gate, we would like to convey the following clarification: This unfortunate incident was the result of an misunderstanding of internal protocols,” the statement read.

“The matter was escalated to senior officials, and HRH the Ambassador had the opportunity to speak with the Rabbi.

“We look forward to welcoming him back to the Kingdom.”

Last year, talks between the U.S and Saudi Arabia on potentially recognizing Israel ramped up, and the kingdom has maintained that it still wishes to pursue a normalization agreement amid Israel’s war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza.

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