US rights group condemns slap on wrist for NYC Islamophobia
The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) on Thursday condemned a plea deal amounting to a slap on the wrist for Stuart Seldowitz, an ex-U.S. State Department official. The deal means Seldowitz will avoid jail time in exchange for undergoing "anti-bias" training for threats and anti-Muslim comments against a Muslim food vendor in New York City. Many could perceive the decision as an injustice, and even go as far as the justice system being seen as condoning Seldowitz's series of attacks.
Seldowitz, 64, was charged in November with aggravated harassment, hate crime stalking, stalking causing fear and stalking at a place of employment.
A video captured of Seldowitz shows him stalking, harassing and threatening a Muslim vendor in New York City, where he is also heard advocating for the killing of thousands of more Palestinian children, which had gone viral causing widespread uproar.
The dropping of the charges during a crisis of sometimes fatal bigotry against Muslims in North America brings up the issue of the deterrence value of the decision and whether it would actually embolden other anti-Muslim attacks because of the perception that they go unpunished, even being seen as giving a "green light" for more attacks. At the same time, many Muslims will perceive this development as justice not being served leading to their trust in the legal system diminishing, pushing them into a corner of marginalization.
Seldowitz reached a deal to undergo bias training to avoid a charge for his anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian harassment and stalking targeting a New York City food cart vendor. Seldowitz, a former Obama administration security adviser, will submit to a “26-week Anti-Bias Program through Queens Counseling for Change,” a judge ruled.
If Seldowitz completes the 26-week anti-bias course at Queens Counseling for Change (QCC), has no new arrests and no violations of an order of protection, prosecutors will move for adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office confirmed to Anadolu Agency (AA).
In a statement, CAIR-NY Executive Director Afaf Nasher said: “Seldowitz’s vile verbal abuse and harassment targeting an innocent street vendor were caught on video for all to see. The sweetheart deal he received from the Manhattan DA’s office is a shameful affront of our justice system and wholly unfitting of his actions.
“Anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim bigotry and hate crimes are on the rise nationwide, and light punishments are a slap in the face to the victims. They represent a failure to address the severity of the issue, perpetuating a cycle of injustice and further marginalization.”
“When deals like this are made, there’s no wonder that only 4% of our community reports hate crimes and bias incidents to law enforcement.”
Seldowitz served as the acting director for the National Security Council South Asia Directorate under former U.S. President Barack Obama. He also worked as a senior political officer in the State Department’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs in the early 2000s.
The former official sparked outrage after videos surfaced last year that showed him harassing and threatening a Muslim vendor on numerous occasions.
In one video circulated on the internet, Seldowitz called the vendor a "terrorist" and said: "You support terrorism. You support killing little children. You’re a terrible person.”
The vendor replied: "You kill children, not me.”
Before leaving, Seldowitz said: "If we killed 4,000 Palestinian kids, you know what? It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough."
In another video which was taken during an evening encounter with the same vendor, Seldowitz talks about "his friends in immigration" and threatens the vendor with, "The Mukhabarat wants your picture," referring to Egypt’s intelligence agency.
Wearing a green hoodie, he said: "The Mukhabarat in Egypt will get your parents. Does your father like his fingernails? They’ll take them out one by one."
The vendor responded, telling him to, "Go, go, go."
Seldowitz then picks up his phone and appears to take a picture of the vendor and tells him to "smile for me."
Refusing to leave the area, he makes insults against the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran and threatens the vendor further.
"That’s why you're selling food in a food cart because you’re ignorant. But you should learn English. It’ll help you when they deport you back to Egypt and then the Mukhabarat wants to interview you,” said Seldowitz.
In another video, he harasses the vendor but is interrupted by a bystander who tells him to leave. "It's not right; you are harassing," he said.