Calls for Federal Hate Crime Investigation Follow Stabbing of Palestinian American in Austin

Nizar Doar speaks at a press conference Feb. 6 following his son being stabbed (Photo by Lina Fisher)

On Sunday, thousands traveled from across the state to rally for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The second statewide protest organized by the Austin for Palestine Coalition drew an estimated 10,000-15,000 people to the south lawn of the Capitol. Nizar Doar, his son Zacharia, and three friends had driven in from Dallas for the protest, and late on Sunday, Nizar was on his way back. “I just left my son in good condition. I told him, ‘Let’s go to Dallas, I will pay for your dinner, you and your friends, I want you to come with us.’ They’re young, they decided to try the good food in Austin. They stayed. An hour and a half, hour and 45 minutes [into the drive] and I get a terrible call saying, ‘Uncle, you have to turn back.’”

Nizar’s 23-year-old son Zacharia had been attacked and stabbed by 36-year-old Bert James Baker around 7pm as he and his friends were leaving the protest. At Nueces and West 26th Street, Baker allegedly approached their car on a bicycle and tried to rip a flag pole with a keffiyeh scarf reading “Free Palestine” off the car, then screamed the N-word and pulled Zacharia from the car. The other three got out of the car to fight Baker off, who then allegedly stabbed Zacharia with a knife, breaking his rib. Zacharia underwent a successful surgery and is currently recovering in a hospital, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

In a press release Tuesday, APD called the incident “bias-motivated” and said it will be reviewed by the Hate Crimes Review Committee and then turned over to the District Attorney’s office. APD says “it is up to the prosecuting office to enhance the offense to a bias-motivated crime not the investigative unit.” Baker was arrested on a charge of second-degree aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

On Tuesday morning in front of City Hall, Nizar spoke at a press conference organized by the Dallas chapter of CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization. CAIR is calling for the incident to be investigated as a hate crime, both locally and federally. “Given the information collected and provided, it is clear that the hate was a motivating factor in the stabbing,” said Hatem Natsheh with the Austin for Palestine Coalition on Tuesday. “The surge in anti-Arab anti-Palestinian sentiment we are experiencing is unprecedented.”

CAIR received 2,171 complaints of anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian bias from October 7 to December 2, almost double the number reported during the same period a year ago. Speakers at the presser noted that the Austin incident echoes mounting violence in other American cities since October 7, such as the October murder of a Muslim 6-year-old in Chicago and the November shooting of three Palestinian American college students in Vermont, who were wearing keffiyehs.

“Our city officials have created a climate of fear,” said Zainab Haider, an organizer with the Austin for Palestine Coalition. “Many of them have been silent on Palestine. And now the silence of the mayor can only be seen as condoning this violence.”

Since October, advocates have been calling for Council to adopt a ceasefire resolution, which it still has not, despite resolutions from the city’s Human Rights Commission in November and the Asian American Quality of Life Advisory Commission in January. Council Members Zo Qadri, Vanessa Fuentes, and José Velásquez released a joint statement in December supporting a ceasefire, but in a January Council meeting, CM Chito Vela gave voice to a sentiment seemingly shared by many progressive officials – that he personally supports a ceasefire but does not want Council to “become embroiled in foreign policy matters.”

In light of Mayor Kirk Watson’s October statement of support for Israel and Jewish Austinites, Joshua Sklar, a representative from Jewish Voice for Peace, said, “There’s a very toxic notion that Jewish safety is somehow mutually exclusive with Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim safety. This notion is false. And I believe that our leaders have perpetuated it.”

Along with state Rep. Vikki Goodwin, Qadri attended the press conference, affirming support for the Palestinian community and saying he visited Zacharia in the hospital: “My biggest fear was if the violence was to come here to Austin, and we would see folks in the Jewish community or Muslim community touched by this violence. That became a reality on Sunday night.”

As he was driving back to Austin, Nizar said, “The first thing that came to my mind is ‘I’m gonna lose my son.’ He just had his baby – his wife – I was thinking, how am I going to tell them that I failed to protect my son. The city of Austin failed to protect my son. Greg Abbott failed to protect his citizens. Joe Biden failed to protect this country. This has come to haunt us in our homeland, in Texas. I beg you to call an end for this madness, and stop the genocide in Gaza.”

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