Saudi Arabia laments ‘unfortunate’ spat with Orthodox rabbi, but offers no apology

Rabbi travelling with US delegation was ordered to remove his yarmulke.

By Vered Weiss, World Israel News

The Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington D.C. issued a statement calling the situation in which an Orthodox Jewish rabbi was asked to remove his kippah at a UNESCO site an “unfortunate incident.”

“This unfortunate incident was the result of a misunderstanding of internal protocols,” the Saudi Ambassador said in a statement.

“The matter was escalated to senior officials, and HRH the Ambassador [Reema Bandar Al-Saud] had the opportunity to speak with the rabbi,” the statement said.

Although no apology was offered, the statement continued, “The matter was resolved but we respect his decision to not continue the tour. We look forward to welcoming him back to the kingdom.”

A US delegation to Saudi Arabia cut short its visit following the incident.

The chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Rabbi Abraham Cooper, was told to remove his kippah when the delegation approached Diriyah, a historic town that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, near the capital city Riyadh.

Rabbi Cooper refused to remove his kippah, a head covering Orthodox Jewish men are commanded by the Torah to wear at all times.

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

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He added, “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.”

Cooper explained in the statement, “We note, with particular regret, that this happened to a representative of a U.S. government agency promoting religious freedom.”

This incident comes at a time when relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia are cooling after normalization talks between the two countries showed significant progress prior to October 7th and the ensuing war between Israel and Gaza.