The opening of a burger chain in Dearborn, Mich., founded in Israel, was delayed after the owner received threats following calls to boycott the restaurant.
The Detroit Free Press reports that University of Detroit Mercy Adjunct Law Professor Amer Zahr called for a boycott after hearing that the chain — Burgerim — was founded in Tel Aviv in 2011.
"Building their company on stolen Palestinian land is how they established themselves," Zahr, a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, told the Free Press. "Whether they ended up moving (headquarters) ... it doesn't really matter. The genesis of the company was in Israel."
Lebanese-American Sam Zahr, who is not related to Amer, planned to open Burgerim in Dearborn at the beginning of August but the opening has now been indefinitely postponed "after his kids were bullied and he received threatening messages from those opposed to the burger chain founded in Israel," according to the Free Press.
"I've received very hurtful comments," Sam Zahr told local news station WDIV. "You support Israel, you don't support the Palestinian cause."
One message read: "You have Palestinian and Lebanese blood on your hand if you open up that joint," according to the Free Press.
Additionally, in April, Zahr set up a tent at the Royal Park location featuring free burgers for Ramadan, only to find the following morning that the tent had been vandalized.
Amer Zahr told the Free Press that Burgerim's Israeli roots were "offensive to many members of the [Dearborn] community," adding that "everyone for the most part in Dearborn is very supportive of Palestinian rights and our struggle."
He did acknowledge to WDIV "no one should be bullied" over the matter.
Sam Zahr put $180,000 into Burgerim's Dearborn location and had signed a five-year lease. He told the Free Press "he has lost everything" as a result and said it was all "for no reason."
"A burger is not gonna make a difference," Sam Zaher told WDIV. "I don't care where it comes from, we're in America."
He added that he didn't "want a burger to divide people. That's why I walked away from this." Sam Zahr will still be opening two Burgerim locations in Oak Park and Redford Township later this month.
Jewish groups came to Sam Zahr's defense.
"What are we talking about here, burgers?" Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper told the Journal, noting that boycotting Burgerim "doesn't help a single Palestinian, and frankly it's a bit depressing."
"It is a travesty when an Arab-American businessman is intimidated by extremists simply for trying to open a restaurant with roots in Israel," StandWithUs Midwest Executive Director Peggy Shapiro said. "People, communities and businesses should come together to build a better future, instead of allowing hatred to tear them apart."
The Israel Group Founder and President Jack Saltzberg similarly said in a statement, "As is generally the case, the hatred of Israel far outweighs facts, truth or logic. The Burgerim franchised restaurants in the U.S. are not legally or financially connected in any way to the restaurants in Israel. So, really what we have are groups of anti-Semites boycotting a Lebanese-American who is simply trying to make a living in the United States. Even if the restaurants here were connected to Israel, the anti-Israel boycott would be shameful on its own, but now they have revealed their ignorance and anti-Semitism even further."
"Burgerim" is Hebrew for "many burgers." Its first U.S. location opened in West Hollywood in 2013. The company's headquarters are currently located in Encino.