Former U.S. Official Caught in Videos Racially Harassing a Halal Food Vendor

Former U.S. Official Caught in Videos Racially Harassing a Halal Food Vendor

A former senior U.S. official was seen racially harassing a halal food vendor in Manhattan for weeks in videos circulating online.

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Stuart Seldowitz, who served as a national security official under former President Barack Obama, called the unidentified food vendor a “terrorist” among a number of other xenophobic remarks on multiple occasions, as seen in videos posted on X.  

Seldowitz taunts the man about his citizenship in the clips, accuses him of supporting Hamas, and says that not enough Palestinian children have died. “If we killed 4,000 Palestinian kids, you know what, it wasn’t enough,” Seldowitz says, before laughing and waving to the camera.

In another altercation, which takes place at night, Seldowitz takes images of the vendor and threatens to use his political connections to call Egypt’s intelligence service, the Mukhabarat. When the vendor says he does not speak English, Seldowitz can be heard telling the man, “That’s why you’re selling food in a food cart.” He adds, “You should learn English, it’ll help you when they deport you back to Egypt and the Mukhabarat wants to interview you.”

He proceeds to tell the man that people use the Quran, Islam’s holy book, as a “toilet.” The vendor can be heard in most videos asking Seldowitz to go away and reminding him that is working. Seldowitz also makes provocative statements about the Prophet Muhammed in a third video.

The videos come amid heightened social divide and increased acts of Islamophobia and antisemitism in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war. Since Hamas’s Oct. 7, attack on Israel in which 1,200 people died and around 240 people were taken as hostages, Israel has carried out a relentless bombardment of the Gaza Strip. At least 14,000 Palestinians have been killed, 40% of which are children, and as many as 1.7 million people in the enclave have been displaced. 

Who is Stuart Seldowitz?

Seldowitz, 64, has held several senior roles across five presidencies, for both Democratic and Republican administrations. He served as acting director for the National Security Council South Asia Directorate, and deputy director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs between 1999 and 2003. 

As of Nov. 2022, Seldowitz was listed as a foreign affairs chair for Gotham Government Relations, a lobbying firm in New York City. The firm confirmed Tuesday that it has cut ties with Seldowitz, who appears to have been removed from their website, according to Al Jazeera. 

Speaking of Seldowitz’s conduct in the videos, David Schwartz, Gotham’s president said in a statement that he is “personally outraged and offended by this language.” 

Schwartz added: “Islamophobia and antisemitism have no place in our world and must be eradicated.” He also made an offer of free legal representation to the food vendor filming the videos. 

What has Seldowitz said about the videos?

Seldowitz told the New York Times that he has not seen the videos in question as of Tuesday. He said in that interview the altercations began when he asked the vendor if he was Egyptian. Seldowitz alleged that the vendor expressed support for Hamas, which cannot be heard in any of the video footage. Seldowitz did not immediately return TIME’s request for comment.

“At that point, I got rather upset and I’ve said things to him, that in retrospect, I probably regret, though—that I do regret,” Mr. Seldowitz said. “Instead of focusing in on him and what he said, I expanded into insulting his religion and so on.”

Seldowitz went on to tell the publication he is not Islamophobic, noting that there are many Arabs and Muslims who “know me very well and who know I’m not prejudiced against them.”

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