Israeli burger franchise in Dearborn delays opening
August 9, 2019
(JNS)—A non-kosher Israeli burger franchise has indefinitely delayed its opening in Dearborn, Mich., after taking heat from the Arab-American community, one of the largest in the United States.
The opening of Burgerim (the Hebrew plural for “burgers”) has apparently “stirred up controversy for months, striking at the heart of the charged debate over Israeli-Palestinian relations. The announced restaurant opening has elicited back-and-forth comments on Facebook posts from those spreading the message to boycott and others just hoping for a good burger,” reported the Detroit Free Press.
Burgerim opened its first location in Tel Aviv in 2011, followed by several other restaurants in Israel, as well as in the United States and Europe. To date, the fast-food chain has more than 160 locations worldwide with at least 30 more planned locations.
A franchise in Royal Oak, about 18 miles from Dearborn and also run by the same owner—Sam Zahr, a Lebanese American who resides in Dearborn—has not experienced much objection.
“I think it’s only within this area,” Zahr told the Detroit Free Press about the Dearborn residents getting fired up. “That’s why I figured, let me walk away from the problem.”
Zahr has two other locations expected to open this month: one in Redford Township and another in Oak Park, near a Chabad-Lubavitch center and significant Jewish population.
Such backlash consisted of hostile and threatening Facebook messages and comments in posts.
One Facebook message to Zahr stated, “I told you, you are not like us. You have Palestinian and Lebanese blood on your hand if you open up that joint.”
“Zahr said he has lost everything after pouring money into the Dearborn location by signing a five-year lease, having the electricity and plumbing installed, purchasing permits and licenses and paying the franchise fee,” reported the Detroit Free Press.
“It’s just for no reason. Why?” said Zahr. “We’re in America. You don’t own Dearborn.”
Dearborn activist and law professor Amer Zahr, a supporter of the anti-Israel whopper known as BDS, has led the cause against the Burgerim franchise because of where the chain was founded.
“It was offensive to many members of the community,” Zahr, also a comedian who has no relation to Sam, told the Detroit Free Press.
“Anyone has a First Amendment right to boycott whatever they wish to boycott and to call for boycotts,” he added. “A boycott, of course, comes with the potential of economic damage.”
Zahr also said that “building their company on stolen Palestinian land is how they established themselves. Whether they ended up moving [headquarters]... it doesn’t really matter. The genesis of the company was in Israel.”
Sam Zahr’s attorneys have filed a cease-and-desist against Amer Zahr for making “defamatory statements” against the food chain.