Saudi Arabia says kippah row with US delegation was ‘misunderstanding’

WASHINGTON – Saudi Arabia said on March 12 that a “misunderstanding” was at the root of a controversial incident in the kingdom in which a rabbi leading a US delegation on religious freedom was asked to remove his head covering.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said on March 11 that its delegation was visiting Diriyah, a historic town that is a Unesco World Heritage Site, when the commission’s chair, Orthodox Rabbi Abraham Cooper, “refused their requests that he remove his religious head covering.”

After delays, Mr Cooper was denied entry to the site, even though he and USCIRF vice-chair Reverend Frederick Davie had their visit approved by the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The delegation cut its visit to Saudi Arabia short.

A day after the USCIRF made the incident public, the Saudi embassy in Washington released a statement seeking to convey a “clarification” about what happened.

“This unfortunate incident was the result of a misunderstanding of internal protocols,” the embassy said in its statement, acknowledging that Mr Cooper “was denied entry to Diriyah Gate.”

“The matter was resolved but we respect his decision to not continue the tour,” it added, without explaining how the issue was resolved.

It did say Saudi Ambassador Reema Bandar Al-Saud spoke with Mr Cooper about the incident.

The episode, which occurred on March 5, came against a backdrop of tensions between Riyadh and Israel over the war in Gaza, and US efforts to promote normalisation of ties between the two states once the conflict is over.

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