DEARBORN, Mich. - A Lebanese-American franchisee said he was too worried to open a restaurant after his children were bullied and he received threatening messages from those opposed to the Burgerim burger chain.
Burgerim means many burgers in Hebrew. Sam Zahr was going to open a Burgerim location in two weeks. He said he invested $180,000 in the business. After growing backlash, however, he won't be opening up on the Detroit-Dearborn border.
"That was actually my first location I wanted to open until those problems started," Sam Zahr said.
Sam Zahr owns a Burgerim franchise in Royal Oak. The company is expanding across the United States. It started in Israel and is headquartered in California.
Sam Zahr said he was surprised by the reaction to opening a location in Dearborn.
"I've received very hurtful comments. You support Israel, you don't support the Palestinian cause," Sam Zahr said.
Law professor and local activist Amer Zahr, who is not related to Sam, is opposed to Burgerim coming to Dearborn.
"Obviously the issue of Palestine is near and dear to the people of Dearborn. I wish that he had done more research and understood the sensitivity before bringing it into our community," Amer Zahr said.
Sam Zahr lives in Dearborn. The Lebanese-born Muslim American doesn't see the connection between his business and the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
"To me, a burger is not gonna make a difference. I don't care where it comes from, we're in America," Sam Zahr said.
"It doesn't matter that it's a burger joint. (It) could've been a pizza joint. This is about raising awareness of the violations by Israel of international law," Amer Zahr said.
"I can feel, especially my older son, how hurt he is over about this," Sam Zahr said.
"Obviously no one should be bullied. No kid should be bullied, obviously. This is a political debate and a boycott is a political tool," Amer Zahr said.
"First of all, I really respect everyone's opinion, you know. We're here to unite people not to divide people and I don't want a burger to divide people. That's why I walked away from this," Sam Zahr said.
Sam Zahr isn't looking behind him, but is focused on the future. He plans on opening two locations in Oak Park and Redford.