US Religious Freedom Commission Calls Off Saudi Arabia Visit Amid Kippah Controversy

US Religious Freedom Commission Calls Off Saudi Arabia Visit Amid Kippah Controversy

Saudi Arabia, USCIRF, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Religious Freedom, Kippah Controversy US foreign policy, Middle East ,Judaism,Religion,news

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) curtailed its official visit to Saudi Arabia earlier than planned, following an incident where its chair, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, was asked to remove his Jewish head covering, or kippah. The incident happened near Riyadh while the delegation was touring Diriyah, a historic town recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

USCIRF chair Rabbi Cooper, an Orthodox Jewish leader, refused the request to take off his kippah. In a statement, he emphasized, "No individual should be barred from accessing a heritage site, particularly one designed to showcase unity and progress, merely because they are Jewish."

The incident occurred last Tuesday when Cooper and the USCIRF vice-chair, Rev. Frederick Davie, were touring the site as part of their official visit. Despite the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs having approved the visit, Cooper was asked to remove his kippah at the site and any time he was in public. Cooper remarked that the request, particularly amidst rising antisemitism, made it impossible for the USCIRF delegation to continue its visit.

The abrupt departure of the USCIRF delegation, which is an advisory body mandated by the US Congress to endorse religious freedom, was especially unfortunate. The commission expressed regret over the incident, stating that it was particularly distressing that it happened to a representative from a US government agency dedicated to promoting religious freedom.

Rev. Frederick Davie, the USCIRF's vice-chair, termed the incident as "stunning and painful." He voiced his disappointment, stating, "This incident starkly contradicts not only the government's official narrative of progress but also the apparent signs of increased religious freedom in the kingdom, which we have personally observed."

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond immediately to a request for comment from AFP. This incident unfolds amidst a complex backdrop, with ongoing tensions between Saudi Arabia and US ally Israel over the war in Gaza, and US efforts to foster normalization of relations between the two countries once the conflict concludes.

News Agencies

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