Saudi Visit Abruptly Ends After Confrontation With Rabbi

A U.S. delegation quickly ended its visit to Saudi Arabia last week after Orthodox rabbi Abraham Cooper was asked to take off his kippah head covering.

On Monday, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a statement on the incident at the UNESCO World Heritage site concerning its chairman. The site visit had been approved by the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But the tour encountered several delays, and Saudi officials requested that Cooper remove his covering at the location and anytime he was in public.

The statement confirmed that the U.S. Embassy staff fully backed Cooper while informing the Saudis that he would not comply. He made clear his refusal as an observant Jew to remove his kippah, and this prompted site officials to escort the delegation away from the premises.

The rabbi noted that Saudi Arabia embarked on a modernization process called 2030 Vision. However, “being asked to remove my kippah made it impossible for us from USCIRF to continue our visit.”

The rabbi praised moves by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to covertly permit faiths other than Islam to worship privately.

He also announced that Saudi Arabia may free four Uyghur Muslim prisoners being held in the kingdom. They may be allowed entry into the U.S. over concerns of persecution if they return to China.

No religious displays other than those of Islam are permitted. The kingdom is only two years removed from its largest ever mass execution of a group that included members of the Shiite minority.

And any dissent — real or perceived — against Prince Mohammed is immediately countered by the power of the oil-rich state.

USCIRF Vice Chair Rev. Frederick Davie of New York City attempted to put the rabbi’s troubling encounter into perspective. “The situation in Saudi Arabia is very complex. And not everybody’s on board, and this may be an example of that.”