A Lebanese-American private business owner halted expansion plans because he fears for the safety of his family and employees thanks to anti-Semitic bigotry in Rep. Rashida Tlaib's district.
Imagine investing $200,000 into a restaurant, but then turn around and indefinitely delay its opening because people threatened to boycott your business and bullied your family members.
That's the decision BurgerIM franchisee Sam Zahr had to make for the safety of his family and employees. He also didn't want to divide the Dearborn, Michigan, community.
The Detroit Free Press reports:
Sam Zahr, a Lebanese-American who lives in Dearborn, said he was too worried to open the restaurant on Greenfield Road after his kids were bullied and he received threatening messages from those opposed to the burger chain founded in Israel.
The Dearborn Burgerim location has stirred 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.
Burgerim, which means "many burgers" in Hebrew, specializes in mini burgers of different types of meat. It's headquartered in Encino, California, but was founded in Israel with its first location in Tel Aviv.
Sam Zahr shared one of the threatening messages he received with the publications:
Zahr described several events that led to the decision not to open. In one instance, someone messaged him on Facebook with threatening comments, confirmed by screenshots of the messages.
"I told you, you are not like us," someone wrote in a Facebook message to Zahr. "You have Palestinian and Lebanese blood on your hand if you open up that joint."
In another incident, he set up a tent with free burgers outside the soon-to-open Royal Oak store for Ramadan, a Muslim holiday in April, but he said the tent was destroyed the next morning.
Palestinian activist named Amer Zahr (no relation) has led the boycotts:
Amer Zahr — no relation to Sam — is a Dearborn activist, comedian and an adjunct law professor at University of Detroit Mercy. He has been a leading voice urging his community to boycott the business when it opens because it was founded in Israel on land he says was stolen from Palestinians.
When Burgerim first began to set up shop in the neighborhood, Amer Zahr said many people did not know much about it. He felt it was his job to educate people on the history of its founding.
"Building their company on stolen Palestinian land is how they established themselves," Zahr said. "Whether they ended up moving (headquarters) ... it doesn't really matter. The genesis of the company was in Israel."
I'm sure it will surprise absolutely no one reading this to find out that Amer Zahr supports the anti-Semitic BDS movement, which Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) both recently equated to the boycotts of Nazi Germany:
Zahr is a supporter of the Palestinian-led movement called BDS, or Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, that puts pressure on Israel to change its policies and grant Palestinians human rights, according to the movement's website. It was inspired by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
DC Examiner editor Seth Mandel, who is Jewish, had this reaction:
Via Google Maps, here's a screengrab of what the restaurant looked like in August 2018:
While the locals knew it as a Dearborn restaurant, technically it was located Detroit – literally right across the street from Dearborn. The address was 6901 Greenfield Rd, Detroit, MI 48228.
When I checked the zip code, I discovered the location was in Tlaib's district.
Don't hold your breath, waiting for her to voluntarily weigh-in or for the national media to get her thoughts. I think based on recent comments alone it's pretty obvious what she would respond.
WXYZ-TV interviewed both Zahrs this week to find out more about their positions on the issue. Sam Zahr has some other BurgerIM locations in Detroit but wanted to bring one to Dearborn because he said the food is halal.
"I'm not sending money overseas to anybody," Sam Zahr said during the interview. He said the money would go towards the operating costs of the restaurant, including paying his employees, paying for the food, marketing efforts, and personal profit from what's leftover.
Watch the segment below:
Sam Zahr told Fox 2 Detroit that he wasn't a franchisee for BurgerIM for political reasons. He said he wanted to open it to serve his community:
"How a burger, making a hamburger, is going to support Israel?" said Sam Zahr. "It didn't make sense."
"This franchise supporting Israel, we did not know about it, after I found out about it the first time, I contacted corporate, I did my own homework to see any kind of link. I did not find any link," he said.
Sam is an immigrant, a Lebanese-American whose family, he says, has been impacted by the conflict.
Sam says the backlash from the Arab community has kept him from opening BurgerIM in Detroit – costing him $200,000 and that's not including the lease.
"Every store I open in Detroit it's employing about 25 people," Sam said. "My job is to open my business, serve my community and make the best out of it. I don't want to get involved in any politics."
Something Amer Zahr said to the Detroit Free Press to justify his targeting of the restaurant rubbed me the wrong way:
"Anyone has a First Amendment right to boycott whatever they wish to boycott and to call for boycotts," Amer Zahr said. "A boycott, of course, comes with the potential of economic damage."
While that's true, rest assured that if he opened a restaurant, and a Christian activist organized a boycott campaign against him, his outrage would go off the charts. The national news media would have a field day camping out in Dearborn and giving 24-7 updates on "developments," etc.
Tlaib would come rushing in with her Squad pals closely behind her, demanding action against "religious bigotry inspired by President Trump," etc.
But the shoe is not on the other foot in this case. The national media doesn't care that a Lebanese-American private business owner has had to halt expansion plans because he fears for the safety of his family and employees thanks to anti-Semitic bigotry in Rep. Rashida Tlaib's district.
This is yet another example of how we are living in incredibly stupid, and dangerous, times.
— Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym "Sister Toldjah" and can be reached via Twitter. —