A man accused of stabbing a Palestinian American while attacking a group of people leaving a cease-fire rally in Austin was arrested last weekend in the latest U.S. incident of violence amid an escalation of Islamophobia, antisemitism and anti-Arab sentiment.
A group of four Palestinian and Muslim Americans were driving home from a pro-Palestinian protest Sunday near the University of Texas campus when a white man on a bicycle approached their vehicle at a stop sign, began shouting racial slurs and tried to rip a “Free Palestine” flag off their car, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights group.
The attacker then reportedly pulled a 23-year-old Palestinian American out of the car and stabbed him in the chest. Austin police said Zacharia Doar was taken to a hospital, where his wounds were determined to be non-life-threatening. CAIR, which has been in contact with the affected protesters and the Doar family, said Monday that the young man was recovering from surgery.
“We strongly condemn this apparent act of hate, we applaud these young men bravely defending themselves, and we call on state and federal law enforcement authorities to file appropriate charges against the suspect, including hate crime charges,” CAIR-Dallas Director Mustafa Carroll said Monday.
“No one should be targeted and attacked because they put Palestinian-themed items on their vehicle. Anti-Palestinian racism and anti-Muslim bigotry have no place in Texas or anywhere else in our nation.”
A young girl holds a Palestinian flag at the Texas State Capitol as demonstrators rally in support of Palestinians in Austin on Nov. 12, 2023. A protest last weekend near the University of Texas campus was followed by the stabbing of a young Palestinian American.
Police arrested 36-year-old Bert James Baker on suspicion of felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the attack. Baker is being held at Travis County Jail in Austin, with bail set at $100,000. It was unclear as of Tuesday afternoon if he has an attorney.
Austin police said Tuesday that they think the attack was a “bias-motivated incident” and that it’s being reviewed by the department’s Hate Crimes Review Committee. The committee will provide its findings to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.
“We encourage everyone to educate, support and respect all members of our community, regardless of their background or beliefs,” the Austin Police Department said in a statement. “We strongly condemn all forms of crime, especially those which are bias-motivated or showing of discrimination.
“Our Department is committed to keeping our community safe and inclusive for all. We will continue to work to ensure that our community is a place where everyone feels valued and respected.”
The APD said it will be up to the district attorney to determine whether the charges against Baker should be escalated to a hate crime.
At a CAIR news conference in front of Austin City Hall on Tuesday, Doar’s father, Nizar, said his son lives with his wife and infant child in Arlington, Texas, and was in Austin on Sunday only to attend the demonstration calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.
AUSTIN, TX: Father of 23 year-old Palestinian-American stabbing victim, Zacharia Doar, shared a message from his son: “Mr. Joe Biden, I blame you for what happened to me. If you would have called for a ceasefire three months ago, this would have never happened.” pic.twitter.com/nnWQQ3OCWk
— Waleed Shahid (@_waleedshahid) February 6, 2024
“All I want is justice for my son and justice for our people in Gaza,” Nizar said, adding that Doar was in “pain and agony” from the stabbing. The father also stressed that U.S. leaders at the local and national level had failed to keep his son safe.
“This has come to haunt us in our homeland. It’s come to haunt us in the U.S. It’s come to haunt us in Texas,” he said. “This is not acceptable. And I beg you to call an end for this madness.”
The stabbing comes as cases of Islamophobia and antisemitism have been rising in the U.S. since the Hamas militant group launched a surprise attack on Oct. 7 that left about 1,200 Israelis dead and about 240 taken hostage, triggering a massive retaliation by Israeli forces on Gaza that has killed more than 27,000 people, according to Gaza health officials.
An Illinois man was charged with a hate crime after repeatedly stabbing a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy to death in October. In November, a man shot three 20-year-old college students of Palestinian descent in Burlington, Vermont, leaving one of the men unable to walk.
Despite the rise in Islamophobia and anti-Arab hate in the U.S., the Biden administration has remained an unwavering financial and diplomatic ally to Israel, refusing to call for a cease-fire and defending the country now being accused at the international level of committing genocide. President Joe Biden has faced intense backlash from the Muslim and Arab American communities over his response to the attacks on Gaza.
“Mr. Joe Biden, I blame you for what happened to me,” Doar said in a message shared by his father. “If you would have called for a cease-fire three months ago, this would have never happened.”