Former State Dept. Official Recorded Harassing Halal Food Cart Vendor

A former State Department employee and national security official was recorded on video harassing a halal food vendor in Manhattan in recent weeks, calling the man a “terrorist.”

The former official, Stuart Seldowitz, was recorded in several videos posted on X, also known as Twitter, taking pictures of the vendor and berating him with Islamophobic comments. After a brief back-and-forth about children being killed, Mr. Seldowitz tells the man: “If we killed 4,000 Palestinian kids, you know what? It wasn’t enough.”

The vendor, who has not been identified, is heard on the videos asking Mr. Seldowitz to “please go” and saying that he would call the police.

The police said on Tuesday night that no reports had been filed against Mr. Seldowitz, but they confirmed that the commanding officer of the 19th Precinct was aware of the videos and that precinct personnel were monitoring the situation.

Recordings of the encounters spread online at a time when tensions have intensified between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups across the country since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7.

The tensions have been particularly acute in New York City, where there have been almost daily demonstrations and increases in both anti-Islamic and antisemitic hate crimes.

The video clips posted online show Mr. Seldowitz returning to the same location over several days — once at night and twice during the day — and each time refusing to leave.

He’s heard saying in one clip, “It’s a free country — it’s not like Egypt.” In the same clip, Mr. Seldowitz calls the vendor “ignorant” for not speaking English before continuing to make derisive comments about Islam’s founder, the Prophet Muhammad.

The videos do not show any comments by the vendor or interactions that occurred before the clips start. Efforts to reach the vendor at his cart on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

According to Mr. Seldowitz, who said in a phone interview on Tuesday that he had not seen the videos, the episodes started after he asked the vendor if he was Egyptian. As the conversation progressed, the man expressed support for Hamas, Mr. Seldowitz said, though no such claims are captured on any of the videos that have been made public

“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.”

When asked why he had continued to return to the vendor, Mr. Seldowitz said he had wanted to ask if the man was “still a supporter of Hamas,” adding that “I was upset at the fact that he was selling food in a neighborhood in New York.”

Despite being captured on video calling the religion’s holy figure “a rapist” several times, Mr. Seldowitz insisted that he was not Islamophobic.

“I’ve worked with Muslims,” he said, adding, “I have many people who are Muslims and Arabs and so on, who know me very well and who know that I’m not prejudiced against them.”

On Tuesday night, it was a busy scene in front of the cart, which sits steps from the 83rd Street exit of the 86th Street Q subway station. Despite the rain, crowds would intermittently emerge from the subway and form a short line of hungry travelers.

A man working in the cart, who did not want to give his name but said he was not the vendor in the videos, said he himself had encountered Mr. Seldowitz once last week and had called the police. The police came after 30 minutes, he said, but left, saying they couldn’t do anything. Since then, the man said, Mr. Seldowitz had returned twice and was recorded by the other vendor.

Mr. Seldowitz said he had held several positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations, including acting director for the National Security Council South Asia Directorate and a post in the U.S. State Department’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs. He no longer holds any government positions, he said.

According to a November 2022 announcement by Gotham Government Relations, a Manhattan-based lobbying firm, Mr. Seldowitz was the group’s new foreign affairs chair. In a short biography that has since been taken down from the firm’s website, he is described as a three-time winner of the State Department’s Superior Honor Award.

According to David Schwartz, the firm’s president, Mr. Seldowitz was never an employee of Gotham Government Relations and was not registered — as far as Mr. Schwartz was aware — as a lobbyist for the firm.

“I’m personally outraged and offended by this language,” Mr. Schwartz said in a statement, adding, “Islamophobia and antisemitism have no place in our world and must be eradicated.”

Mr. Schwartz also said he wanted to offer legal representation, without charge, to the food vendor against the person who had “spewed such vile, hateful statements.”

Dodai Stewart contributed reporting. Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

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