(New York Jewish Week) — Elected officials in New York City condemned Islamophobic comments by a Jewish former State Department staffer after videos showed him berating a halal food cart vendor on the Upper East Side.
The man in the videos, Stuart Seldowitz, praised the killing of Palestinian children and made disparaging remarks about Islam. The videos show him berating the man on multiple occasions.
Seldowitz held positions in the State Department across administrations of both parties, including a post in the Office of Israel and Palestinian affairs, but is no longer employed by the government. An online biography that has since been deleted said that Seldowitz had a nearly 30-year career with the State Department and New York State.
Seldowitz is heard in one of the videos saying, “If we killed 4,000 Palestinian kids, you know what? It wasn’t enough.” The vendor is heard off-camera asking Seldowitz to leave and generally declining to respond to his taunts.
The videos were posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, as tensions soar in New York amid fallout from the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. New York City streets have seen a stream of verbal disputes surrounding pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protests. Scores of viral videos and photos have documented people tearing down posters of Israeli hostages put up by pro-Israel activists around the city.
Antisemitic incidents have soared across the five boroughs since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, and Islamophobic incidents have increased to a lesser degree, according to the New York Police Department.
Videos of Seldowitz’s encounters drew widespread attention online, along with harsh criticism from local officials.
Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine said on X, “This Islamophobic bigotry is absolutely reprehensible,” and that the police were reviewing the incident. Keith Powers, the New York City Council majority leader, said, “This xenophobic and disgusting behavior has no place on the Upper East Side or New York City.”
New York State Assembly member Alex Bores, who represents the Upper East Side, said “hate has no home” in the neighborhood and that he had visited the vendor.
Seldowitz told the New York Jewish Week that he went to the cart for a soda when he learned the vendor was Egyptian and brought up tensions in New York surrounding the war between Israel and Hamas, as well as other Gaza terror groups. The vendor then defended Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Seldowitz said. Comments to that effect do not appear in the videos circulating online, which are taken from the direction of the halal cart.
“That sort of set me off and I said certain things that I wish I had not said, that I regret, and that were offensive not just to him but for many other people,” Seldowitz said, adding that the confrontation had only been verbal, with no physical aspect or threats from either side. He denied having any “animus toward Arabs or to Muslims or to Islam.”
One of the food cart’s employees told the local news site Documented that many of the vendor’s customers are Jewish and that the workers had a positive relationship with local community members.