Former State Dept. Official Arrested in Harassing of Halal Food Vendor

The former State Department employee and national security official who was filmed harassing a halal food vendor in Manhattan and calling him a “terrorist” was arrested and charged with a hate crime on Wednesday.

The former official, Stuart Seldowitz, 64, faces charges that include aggravated harassment and several counts of stalking, according to the police.

The charges were brought after the vendor, whom the police did not name but identified as a 24-year-old man, told the police that a person had approached him several times while he was working and had made Islamophobic comments, causing him to feel “afraid and annoyed.”

In several videos posted on social media, Mr. Seldowitz was shown photographing the vendor, threatening to send his picture to “friends in Immigration” and making Islamophobic remarks.

The videos show Mr. Seldowitz returning to the same food cart over several days, and each time refusing to leave.Credit…Q Halal

In one clip, Mr. Seldowitz calls the vendor “ignorant” for not speaking English, and goes on to make derisive comments about Islam’s founder, the Prophet Muhammad. In another, after a brief interaction about children being killed, Mr. Seldowitz says: “If we killed 4,000 Palestinian kids, you know what? It wasn’t enough.”

According to the police, Mr. Seldowitz lives a few blocks from the halal cart’s usual location on the Upper East Side. Attempts to reach him on Wednesday night were unsuccessful.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Mr. Seldowitz said that he was not Islamophobic and that he had targeted the vendor only after he expressed support for Hamas. The videos do not depict any comments by the vendor beyond his asking Mr. Seldowitz to leave and saying he would call the police.

“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 on Tuesday. “Instead of focusing in on him and what he said, I expanded into insulting his religion and so on.”

Mr. Seldowitz said he had held several positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations, including acting director for the National Security Council’s 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.

The incident came as tensions have escalated between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups in the weeks since the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7. In New York City, there have been almost daily demonstrations about the war and increases in both anti-Islamic and antisemitic hate crimes, and some angry encounters have gone viral.

In social media posts on Tuesday, both Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul denounced Mr. Seldowitz’s behavior, calling his remarks “vile.”

Mr. Adams wrote: “Islamophobia is hate. Plain and simple. This vile, disrespectful rhetoric has no home in our city.”

Julie Menin, a city councilwoman representing the Upper East Side, said in an interview on Wednesday that the incident was “wholly and totally unacceptable” and had upset the local community and that she was glad to hear Mr. Seldowitz was in custody.

“This individual targeted this street vendor day after day after day, threatened the vendor, clearly committed hate speech that was violent in nature and contained threats,” she said.

Hurubie Meko contributed reporting.

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