Ex-Obama adviser Stuart Seldowitz arrested after Islamophobic rant

The former State Department official was filmed harassing a Muslim street vendor in New York, saying more Palestinian children should be killed in Gaza.

A former high-ranking US government official has been arrested after being captured on video calling a halal food vendor in New York City a “terrorist” and saying the death of 4,000 Palestinian children in Gaza “wasn’t enough”.

Stuart Seldowitz, 64, who previously served as deputy director of the US State Department’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs, was arrested on Wednesday on charges of aggravated harassment, hate crime stalking, stalking causing fear, and stalking at a place of employment, New York police said in a statement.

“A 24-year-old male victim stated to police that an individual approached him at his work place multiple times and made anti-Islamic statements multiple times on different dates causing the victim to feel afraid and annoyed,” police said.

Video went viral this month of multiple arguments over Israel’s war on Gaza between Seldowitz and an Egyptian man working in a halal cart in Manhattan.

“If we killed 4,000 Palestinian kids, it wasn’t enough,” Seldowitz says in one exchange captured on video and posted on the social media platform X.

The vendor is seen telling Seldowitz to “go, go, go, go” and “I won’t hear it”. Seldowitz then responds: “But you’re a terrorist. You support terrorism.”

In other exchanges, Seldowitz is heard casting slurs against Prophet Muhammad, and calling the vendor “ignorant” for his lack of fluency in English.

Seldowitz also threatens to use his government connections to mobilise Egypt’s secret police against the vendor.

“The Mukhabarat [the intelligence agency] in Egypt will get your parents. Does your father like his fingernails? They’ll take them out one by one,” he says smiling.

‘Not appropriate’

Seldowitz served as the acting director for the National Security Council South Asia Directorate under the former President Barack Obama administration. He also worked as a senior political officer in the State Department’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs.

Seldowitz told local television news before his detention on Wednesday that the video posted on social media failed to tell the whole story and that he became upset after the man expressed sympathies for the Palestinian group Hamas – although none of the videos shows the vendor mentioning the group that rules Gaza.

“The comments that went beyond him [the vendor], and could be interpreted as attacks on Muslims and Arab-Americans and so on, were probably not appropriate,” he told WNBC television. “The comments I made calling him out for his support of terrorism – those I think were appropriate.”

After Seldowitz’s actions went viral, New Yorkers rallied to support the vendor, lining up to buy chicken and rice at the food cart in Manhattan’s Upper East Side neighbourhood on Tuesday.

The Street Vendor Project, which works with the thousands of food carts in New York, described a “moving scene” with New Yorkers from “all walks of life coming together” and “taking a stand against anti-Muslim hate”.

On October 7, Hamas launched an attack in Israel that killed 1,200 people. Israel has since bombarded the Gaza Strip, killing more than 14,500 Palestinians.

In the US, the war has prompted a surge in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and fuelled frequent street protests in support of both Israel and Palestine.

Asked about the incident by the Reuters news agency, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said: “The United States unequivocally opposes racist or discriminatory language of any form.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies