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

An American diplomatic trip to Saudi Arabia was cut off Monday after a Saudi official asked a Jewish member of the group to remove their kippah, a head covering traditionally worn by Jewish men.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) left Saudi Arabia early after the slight against Chair Abraham Cooper, who is also a rabbi, which occurred during a visit to the Diriyah UNESCO World Heritage Site in Riyadh.

“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 continued. “USCIRF looks forward to continuing conversations with the Saudi government about how to address the systematic issues that led to this troubling incident.”

The incident comes as relations deteriorate between Saudi Arabia and Israel over the Israel-Hamas war.

USCIRF has designated Saudi Arabia a “country of particular concern” for “systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations” every year since 2000, the group said. Its 2023 annual report says Saudi Arabia severely limits the rights of non-Muslims in the country, despite marginal improvements over previous years.

The Hill has reached out to the Saudi Embassy for comment.

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