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The New Yorker Who Confronted a Food Vendor’s VIP ‘Bully’

Aconstruction worker who came to a Manhattan halal cart vendor’s aid during a shocking tirade by a former presidential adviser doesn’t think he did anything particularly special, but rather, “just a normal New York thing.”

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“This is New York,” Zak Tamymy, 53, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday night. “… We stand up for what’s wrong. And that’s all I did. I am not a hero. And I’m not a Good Samaritan. I’m just a New Yorker who saw something wrong and did something about it.”

Tamymy’s account sheds new light on a disturbing series of viral videos that emerged on Tuesday, showing Seldowitz verbally abusing 24-year-old Mohammed Hussein with a barrage of Islamophobic invective.

Tamymy, who was born in Morocco, emphasized that he had no idea who Seldowitz was at the time he intervened, just that he simply “stood up to a bully.”

“I helped a helpless person who looked very confused and scared,” he said. “And I got involved because I would not want that to happen to me. Or to my kids. So, I did it because it’s the right thing to do.”

Stuart Seldowitz, the deputy director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs from 1999 to 2003 and who most recently served as a national security adviser under President Obama, could be seen in the footage calling Hussein a “terrorist,” denigrating the Prophet Mohammed as a “rapist,” and telling Hussein that he and his family would be tortured by the security services “when they deport you back to Egypt.”

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The backlash to the videos, which were shot on at least three separate occasions in recent weeks, was virtually instant, with New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul weighing in on social media shortly after Seldowitz’s meltdowns went public.

“Islamophobia is hate,” Adams posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Plain and simple. This vile, disrespectful rhetoric has no home in our city. We reject it—and we’re glad to see we’re not alone.”

“This is hateful, disgusting and unacceptable,” Hochul wrote in a separate post. “Vile rhetoric like this has no place in New York, and we condemn it in the strongest of terms.”

After the videos emerged, Seldowitz confirmed that he was the man seen onscreen, telling The Daily Beast, “The bottom line is, yes it’s me.”

In one of the clips, Hussein asks Seldowitz to leave him alone, to which Seldowitz replies, “Why should I go? It’s a free country, it’s not Egypt here.”

At that point, Tamymy, holding a hard hat and wearing a high-viz reflective vest, can be seen walking up to Seldowitz and prevailing upon him to leave Hussein alone.

“Come on,” Tamymy says to him. “What you’re doing is not right.”

“He likes killing Jews!” Seldowitz responds.

“No, that’s not right, he didn’t say that,” Tamymy shoots back as Seldowitz continues to argue his case.

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“That’s what he said!” Seldowitz goes on.

“He didn’t say that, he didn’t say that,” Tamymy counters. “You’re harassing him.”

“Maybe I am,” says Seldowitz. “But you know what, he deserves to be [unintelligible].”At this point, Seldowitz finally walks away. He was arrested Wednesday and is now charged with a hate crime, as well as aggravated harassment and stalking.

Once Seldowitz left, he continued to plead his case, according to Tamymy, who described the erstwhile diplo’s state of mind as “agitated” and “quite distraught.” Tamymy said he tried to calm Seldowitz down, explaining to him that Hussein was simply trying to make a living, and “does not represent any of the sides in this conflict.”

“And this man was just adamant that this guy is with Hamas, and I need to do something about it, and stuff like that,” Tamymy told The Daily Beast. “He had built some idea about this guy. And I tried to get him to understand that… [Hussein] was just working, he did not express anything… He’s just doing his job.”

Following widespread outrage online, lobbying and political communications firm Gotham Government Relations severed ties with Seldowitz, who chaired, as recently as last year, the shop’s foreign affairs practice.

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Reached by phone, Gotham chairman Arthur Aidala told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that Seldowitz had not been actively involved with the firm for quite some time.

“No human being should speak to any other human being that way, no matter how emotional and tragic this period of time is in the world,” Aidala said. “Doing what he did is not going to solve anything, it’s just going to make matters worse.”

To Tamymy, the issue has little to do with religion or politics and everything to do with basic decency.

“If we live in a civilized society, there should be a lot of interventions like this,” he said. “And trust me, unfortunately, I have seen a lot of people walk away.”

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