Stuart Seldowitz, a former deputy director in the US State Department, was caught on video harassing a New York Street food vendor. On November 22, he was charged by the New York State attorney office with several counts of hate crime/stalking and aggravated harassment. Gotham Government Relations, a Manhattan-based lobbying firm, touted Seldowitz’s “expert” résumé, which includes “former Director of the National Security Council under President Obama and former diplomat for the US State Department … during five presidencies.” From 1999 to 2003, Seldowitz was the deputy director of the US State Department’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs under former President George W. Bush. According to Gotham, in the early 2000s, he worked as Acting Director for the National Security Council South Asia Directorate under the order of the Executive Office of the President.
While anti-Islam manifestations have exponentially increased after the Israeli onslaught on the Palestinians in Gaza, the case of Seldowtiz is different for many reasons. Seldowitz had a high-ranking position in the State Department at a time when the US was outsourcing torture to countries like Egypt and Syria. According to justiceinitiative.org, “At least 136 individuals were reportedly extraordinarily rendered or secretly detained by the CIA and at least 54 governments reportedly participated in the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition program; classified government documents may reveal many more.”
It was during those years that the US detained Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, while returning from a visit to Tunisia and then sent him to Syria (through Jordan) to be tortured for one year.
The Seldowitz incident brings back memories of that horrific US government policy when the CIA was given the freedom to kidnap whomever it wished and send them to be brutalized and tortured in countries historically known for sadistic torture practices, or to be tortured by CIA contractors in hidden places around the globe. In his vile rants against the helpless 24-year-old Egyptian food vendor, Seldowitz invoked the mukhabarat of Egypt (intelligence agency of the Egyptian government) and their practice of plucking nails. He said to the vendor: “Mukhabarat in Egypt will get your parents…Does your father like his fingernails? They’ll take them out one by one.” It is completely extraordinary for someone to invoke such horrific torture practice unless, and most likely, Seldowitz was part of the decision-making process to send kidnaped persons to the Mukhabarat of Egypt during his tenure in the US State Department. If he wasn’t, then most likely he was fully aware of the Egyptian Mukhabarat’s torture practice of plucking nails. The program of Extraordinary Rendition could not have been intended to send people for a fully paid vacation to Egypt, Macedonia, Syria, or other exotic places around the globe.
In another very telling rant, Seldowitz said “If we killed 4,000 Palestinian kids, it wasn’t enough…” Notice the “we” in Seldowitz’s vile rant, which reaffirms that the genocide on the Palestinians of Gaza, which thus far killed close to 20000 people, including over 5000 children, was a US-Israeli effort. This conclusion is a no-brainer since whoever supplies the bullet for murder and encourages the murder, that person is both an accomplice and accessory to the murder. These words coming from a former director of the National Security Council could not have come from thin air. Nor did those words come from a deranged lunatic, but rather a sought-after consultant on government affairs as the Gotham website indicated.
Seldowitz’s anti-Islam vile rant was extraordinary. The videos captured him saying to the vendor: “Did you rape your daughter like Muhammad did?” And, “What do you think of that – people who use the Quran as a toilet?” In an interview after the airing of the video, Seldowitz only regretted the “religious aspect” of his rant as he stated, “If I had to do it all over again, I would not have raised the religious aspect.” In other words, the Mukhabarat and the nail-plucking aspects of his rant were fully acceptable and legitimate speech according to Seldowitz.
The level of anger and frustration exhibited by so many in the US against Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians lately has to be contrasted with what happened after previous Israeli onslaughts on Gaza that netted the lives of thousands of Palestinians. Back then, especially in 2009 and 2014, when Israel’s forces killed thousands of Palestinians and maimed many others, the Palestinian resistance including Hamas, was very weak. Now, things have changed dramatically to the point that sympathizers with Israel are not keeping low key as they did in previous Israeli attacks on Gaza, but expressing and venting their anger using extreme methods that range from anti-Muslim and hateful rants, as in the case of Seldowitz, all the way to outright murder, as in the case of Wadea Al Fayoume on the 15th of October and the attempted murder of Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid, and Tahseen Ahmed, on the 26th of November. Such magnitude of anti-Islam, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian hatred eclipsed what has happened after 911. The only visible change between then and now is the strength of the Palestinian resistance in Gaza.
Seldowitz’s vile anti-Islam and racist statements were very expressive and made the social media rounds extensively to the point that major media organizations could not ignore them. Most likely, had his statements not been caught on camera, nothing would have happened. In fact, the NY police did not react to Seldowitz racist and hate speech despite several complaints until and after the videos started circulating, kicking in damage control mechanisms that were intended to sanitize the image of New York City for no other purpose but to avoid hurting the tourism industry which carefully manages the image of NY city as inclusive, welcoming, friendly, and tolerant. What makes me believe that this to be true is the case of Michelle Salzman.
On November 9, Florida State Representative Angie Nixon was speaking on the floor of the Florida legislature in support of a resolution calling for a ceasefire to end the killing of Palestinians in Gaza. During the debate, Nixon asked her colleagues “We are at 10,000 dead Palestinians. How many will be enough?” Republican Representative Michelle Salzman replied, instantly: “All of them.”
The call for genocide by Salzman, a Florida State legislator, was never condemned by any US-based organization, nor was it condemned by anyone in State or Federal governments. In fact, the call for genocide, which far exceeds the racist and anti-Muslim rants that Seldowtiz spewed, this time came from an active lawmaker. Salzman tried to deny her call for genocide, but when it became impossible to deny, she claimed that it was the Hamas regime that she was against not the Palestinians of Gaza. This extraordinary level of hate and racism and enticement for genocide, coming from a Florida state legislator was not worth mentioning on CNN, ABC, FOX, MSNBC or any of the other major news outlets in the US, except for Newsweek, which sanitized the incident by covering the news as an encounter between Nixon and Salzman. The NY Times did not find Salzman’s call for genocide “News That’s Fit to Print.”