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Israel-Palestine war: Former US diplomat dropped by lobbying firm after ‘racist’ tirade

Stuart Seldowitz, caught harassing an Egyptian fast-food vendor in New York, previously worked for the State Department's Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs
Stuart Seldowitz was filmed harassing a fast-food vendor on multiple occasions, using racist and anti-Muslim language (Screengrab/X)

A lobbying firm has dropped a former US State Department official after three videos surfaced of him launching a racist tirade at a New York City food vendor.

Stuart Seldowitz, 64, hurled abuse at a halal food cart worker on multiple occasions, threatening to use his contacts in the Middle East to have the man's family members tortured, praising Israel's killing of Palestinian children and insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

“I’m going to put a big sign here to say that this guy believes in Hamas… you’re a terrorist, you support terrorists. If we killed 4,000 Palestinian children, it wasn’t enough,” he says in one clip.

The footage posted on Tuesday sparked outrage online, particularly as details emerged about Seldowitz's past career as a diplomat.

The comments were made in reference to Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza, which started on 7 October and has killed at least 14,000 Palestinians, including over 5,000 children. 

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Following the circulation of the video online, Seldowitz was dropped by Gotham Government Relations, a Washington-based lobbying firm.

“Gotham Government Relations has ended all affiliation with Stuart Seldowitz, an individual who hasn’t contributed to our work in years,” the lobbying firm said on Tuesday on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. 

“The video of his actions is vile, racist, and beneath the dignity of the standards we practise at our firm,” it added.

According to the New York Times, Seldowitz was a former official in the State Department’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs, among other duties.

He had served both Democrat and Republican administrations for decades, but most recently had worked as an adviser to the Obama administration.

Several abusive tirades 

The videos shared online show Seldowitz launching into a racist and Islamophobic tirade against the food vendor on different occasions. 

“You know the Mukhabarat in Egypt? They’ll get your parents. Does your father like his fingernails? They’ll take them out one by one,” he says to the food vendor. 

Seldowitz tells the food cart vendor that he needs to learn English “because you’ll need it when you’re deported and questioned by the Mukhabarat”.

The vendor tells him to leave, to which he responds: “I am standing here free as an American, I have free rights, it’s not like Egypt,” he adds, as he proceeds to photograph the vendor and criticise him for not speaking English, saying “that shows how ignorant you are”.

“Did you rape your daughter like Muhammad did? Muhammad was a rapist, your prophet, it says that in your holy book. Do you speak Arabic, the language of the Quran which some people use as the toilet?” he added, laughing throughout. 

On a third occasion, Seldowitz says, “Muhammad was a child molester… are you here legally?”

Speaking to the City and State news organisation on Tuesday evening, Seldowitz said he “regretted the whole thing happened… I said things that probably I shouldn't have said.

“I did have an argument with a food vendor. It is quite possible that it's me. I mean, I've not seen the video, but I believe it's probably me,” he added.

Seldowitz criticised the lobbying firm for issuing a statement condemning his comments. 

'I said things that probably I shouldn't have said'

Stuart Seldowitz

“I had a high opinion of the people at Gotham up until I found out that they had issued this statement. I considered the people at Gotham to be friends, and I haven't had a chance to speak to them, or to try to speak to them as to why they felt the need to issue this statement,” he said. 

According to his bio at Gotham - which has since been removed, along with his LinkedIn page - Seldowitz is a three-time winner of the State Department's Superior Honor Award.

From 2009 to 2011, he worked as an acting director of the National Security Council South Asia Directorate under Obama, and as a journalist, editing for Bloomberg News, according to his LinkedIn page. 

Northwestern Mutual financial services, whom he listed as a current employer on that page, said on X on Thursday: "We have confirmed this individual is not contracted by or affiliated with Northwestern Mutual." 

Denounced online 

Seldowitz was widely denounced for making the abusive comments, and there were calls for him to be held accountable given his former senior role in the State Department.

Palestinian writer and commentator Iyad el-Baghdadi wrote on X: “I’m not worried about this particular Stuart Seldowitz, the one we now know. I'm worried about the many, many Stuart Seldowitzes currently placed at the highest levers of power in the Biden administration, working on Middle East policy. What, you thought he's the odd one out?”

More social media users shared the same sentiment, including Jamal el-Shayyal, an Al Jazeera journalist.

“Of course when it’s a white guy spewing disgusting hate, harassing a coloured person and barking vile Islamophobia and racism it can be passed merely as 'the heat of the moment'. 

"This despicable individual had two other separate 'heat of the moments'," he said. 

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