US commission ends Saudi trip early after Jewish chair told to remove kippah head covering

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An American diplomatic trip to a World Heritage site in Saudi Arabia was cut short Monday when authorities demanded a Jewish member of the group remove his religious head covering, which he refused to do. 

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) ended a visit to the Diriyah UNESCO World Heritage Site in Riyadh following the incident involving Chair Abraham Cooper, who is also a rabbi.

Saudi authorities had asked Cooper to remove his kippah. The delegation was escorted off the premises after Cooper indicated that as an observant Jew, he couldn’t comply with the request. 

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A man wearing a kippah is pictured during an ordination ceremony at the Roonstrasse Synagogue in Cologne September 13, 2012. The chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) refused a request by Saudi Arabian authorities to remove his kippah during a visit to a World Heritage Site in Riyadh. (REUTERS/Ina Fassbender)

“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. 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.”

“We note, with particular regret, that this happened to a representative of a U.S. government agency promoting religious freedom,” he added. “USCIRF looks forward to continuing conversations with the Saudi government about how to address the systematic issues that led to this troubling incident.”

USCIRF Vice Chair Davie said the group stands by Cooper and that the incident “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.”

Saudi-American relations have taken a hit amid U.S. support for Israel over its war with Hamas. 

 At-Turaif, one of the country's UNESCO World Heritage sites

Digital historic show is projected during the welcome ceremony for the annual G20 Leaders’ Summit onto Salwa Palace in At-Turaif, one of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage sites in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)

Fox News Digital has reached out to the Saudi Embassy in Washington. 

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The USCIRF has designated Saudi Arabia a “country of particular concern” every year for more than two decades over its restrictions of religious freedom, including limiting the rights of non-Muslims. 

“The Saudi government continued to systematically deny non-Muslims the ability to build houses of worship or worship in public,” USCIRF’s 2023 annual report said. 

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