Stuart Seldowitz, a former adviser to Barack Obama, has been arrested on preliminary charges of hate crime and stalking after a series of racist incidents directed at an Arab food vendor in New York.
The 64-year-old, who served as acting director for the National Security Council South Asia Directorate under Obama and deputy director in the US State Department’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs from 1999 to 2003, faces second-degree aggravated harassment, stalking causing fear, and stalking at employment charges.
Several videos posted on social media show Seldowitz harassing the vendor on multiple occasions, making Islamophobic comments, insulting the Qur'an, and taunting the man about his citizenship status.
In one video, Seldowitz accused the vendor of supporting Hamas, referencing Israel's recent war on Gaza. So far, more than 14,500 people have ben killed in Gaza since October 7. In Israel, the official death toll from Hamas’s attacks stands at about 1,200.
Seldowitz's remarks in one video include: “You support killing little children. You’re a terrible person.”
The vendor replied: “You kill children, not me.”
Seldowitz said: “If we killed 4,000 Palestinian kids, you know what, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough.”
Council member Julie Menin announced that the New York Police Department has launched a hate crime investigation, condemning Seldowitz's actions as "truly abhorrent."
Seldowitz later apologised for the incident, acknowledging that he said things he shouldn't have in the heat of the moment.
"I regret the whole thing happened and I’m sorry… In the heat of the moment, I said things that probably I shouldn’t have said," he said on Tuesday.
The incident comes amid an increase in reported anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias incidents in the US since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Concurrently, reports of antisemitic incidents have also surged after Israel’s retaliation, making Gaza an open-air prison. FBI Director Christopher Wray highlighted a "historic levels" threat of antisemitic incidents, with the Anti-Defamation League reporting a 388% increase in reported incidents in the weeks following October 7 compared to the same period last year.