NYC halal food truck vendor ‘terrified’ by former Obama adviser’s racial abuse

Mohamed Hussein told The Independent that Stuart Seldowitz’s insults about his Islamic faith and threats against his family in Egypt were entirely unprovoked

Thursday 23 November 2023 09:31
<p>Mohamed Hussein, 24, was racially abused by former Obama national security adviser Stuart Seldowitz</p>

Mohamed Hussein, 24, was racially abused by former Obama national security adviser Stuart Seldowitz

A New York City food truck worker who was racially abused and threatened by a former Obama administration official says he is “terrified” of reprisals.

Mohamed Hussein, 24, told The Independent how former National Security Council adviser Stuart Seldowitz ridiculed his religion, taunted him about his immigration status and threatened his family in Egypt during three separate encounters at the Adam Halal Food Cart  on New York’s Upper East Side.

Mr Hussein recorded Mr Seldowitz as he unleashed a torrent of abuse, and the videos have since gone viral after they were posted to social media. On Wednesday NYPD sources told The Independent that Mr Seldowitz had been taken into custody on charges including hate crime.

Former Obama official racially abuses Halal food vendor in NYC

He adamantly denied making pro-Hamas statements, as Mr Seldowitz has since claimed.

“I was terrified, I just kept quiet,” he said, speaking in Arabic as food truck owner Islam Moustafa translated.

Mohamed Hussein, 24, was racially abused by former Obama national security adviser Stuart Seldowitz

The first encounter took place on the morning of 7 November, when Mr Seldowitz allegedly pushed open the food truck window on the corner of East 83rd St and 2nd Ave while staff were preparing to open for the day.

Mr Seldowitz asked where the vendor was from, to which he responded Egypt.

“You guys support Hamas, you’re a terrorist, and you guys like killing Jewish people,” Mr Seldowitz says in one of the videos.

Mr Seldowitz returned to the food truck on three further occasions over the following three weeks to harass staff, the owner said.

Former White House and State Department officail Stuart Seldowitz admitted to being the man caught on video delivering a tirade of racist abuse to a New York food vendor

Mr Hussein told The Independent: “He cursed me out and cursed the prophet Muhammad and then threatened he was going to do something to my family back in Egypt.”

Mr Moustafa, the food truck co-owner, told The Independent he was “100 per cent confident” that the racist remarks were unprovoked and his staff had been trying to defuse the situation.

“I think the video is very clear. He’s trying to act like the victim. He [Seldowitz ] is a smart official who knows how to play with words but I think the video speaks for itself,” said Mr Moustafa.

“But even if he had said something, imagine going that low, and talking with that much hate about religions?”

Mr Hussein shared the cellphone footage with a friend, which went viral after it was posted to X/Twitter on 21 November.

Islam Moustafa said he hoped to see the incident prosecuted as a hate crime, and was considering taking a civil lawsuit against Stuart Seldowitz

In the video Mr Seldowitz, who worked on Israel-Palestine policy for the US State Department, can be heard insulting the Prophet Muhammad and berating the vendor over the Israel-Hamas war.

“If we killed 4,000 Palestinian kids, you know what, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough,” he said.

Mr Seldowitz asked Mr Hussein if he knew about Egypt’s feared intelligence service, the Mukhabarat.

“Mukhabarat in Egypt will get your parents,” Mr Seldowitz told the vendor. “Does your father like his fingernails? They’ll take them out one by one.”

Mr Seldowitz has since offered a muted apology, telling the City & State New York that he was not Islamaphobic and regretted raising “the religious aspect”.

Mr Moustafa told The Independent that his staff member was fearful of retribution after Mr Seldowitz’s identity had been confirmed.

“Now he’s even more scared because he knows the guy has some power and status and connections.”

Mr Moustafa said he initially thought the abusive customer had been homeless or mentally ill.

“I thought he was just a random guy in the street, that he wasn’t feeling well and was maybe having some mental issues. But once we learned he was a government official and a consultant at big firms, I was very offended.

“As much as I feel bad for him that he has that much hate inside him, I don’t accept what he says. It’s not freedom of speech, it’s a hate crime.”

Mr Moustafa said staff had reported Mr Seldowitz’s remarks to the NYPD after the first incident, but they had failed to not send officers out to take a statement.

He said a customer contacted the NYPD after Mr Seldowitz spewed insults at his staff member on a separate occasion.

“They said ‘we get insulted all the time, you can just insult him back’.”

After the footage went viral on Tuesday, NYPD officers returned and took statements from the vendors.

A spokesperson for the NYPD confirmed to The Independent that Mr Seldowitz was taken into custody on Wednesday on charges including aggravated harassment, hate crime, and stalking.

A hate crime probe into the incidents is ongoing, the spokesperson added.

Mr Moustafa previously said he hoped to see hate crime charges brought against Mr Seldowitz.

“It’s very offensive and insulting and I hope this falls under a hate crime and he gets charged. As Muslim-Americans it’s very insulting to talk like that about our prophet. Maybe some other religions consider it freedom of speech, we don’t consider it freedom of speech.

“Coming from an official, it’s even more insulting.”

The food truck had been in business for nearly eight years, and never had any disputes with customers or issues with police, Mr Moustafa said.

Customers and community members had been in contact to offer their support since the video went viral, he said. One passerby brought coffee to the staff members as he chatted to The Independent.

Mr Moustafa told The Independent he had moved to the United States from Egypt more than 20 years ago, and had never experienced this kind of racism.

“This country has been great to us and I don’t feel any racism here. I love America. I respect all religions. Everybody has a choice. Hopefully the gentleman will get help, and hopefully we’ll get some justice.”

Mr Seldowitz was until recently the Foreign Affairs Chair at Gotham Government Relations.

President David Schwarz told City & State New York that he had cut all ties with Mr Seldowitz, and would represent the vendor pro bono if he wanted to file a lawsuit.

Mr Moustafa told The Independent he was interested in pursuing civil legal action against Mr Seldowitz, and would look into taking him up on the offer.

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