On July 23, the House voted 398-17 in favor of bipartisan House Resolution 246, condemning the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel and noting that BDS "seeks to exclude the State of Israel and the Israeli people from the economic, cultural, and academic life of the rest of the world."
H.R. 246's sponsor, Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Illinois, warned that those who support BDS "[understand] what they believe the movement does without fully understanding the impact of it."
It is hard to imagine that Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who voted against the resolution, does not understand BDS' impact. In December, the Palestinian American became the second U.S. lawmaker to express support for BDS. At the same time, one of her constituents was coming in contact with the movement's darker side.
It was not an impending boycott which led Lebanese and Muslim American Sam Zahr to give up on opening his Dearborn, Michigan, burger franchise after spending $180,000 preparing the location. What stopped him were the constant threats, the episode of vandalism, and the harassment he experienced in the name of BDS.
When Zahr acquired the license for his first Burgerim franchise in Dearborn in July 2018, he did not know that the company, whose name means "many burgers" in Hebrew, was founded by an Israeli.
Conflict arose in September, after the Arab American News broke the story about an "Israeli burger franchise" coming to Dearborn. In the article, Zahr and his landlord urged tolerance and unity, but the publication gave its last word to Palestinian comedian, professor, and BDS supporter Amer Zahr, who is unrelated to Sam.
Amer said that, "if [Sam Zahr and his landlord] do not respond" to an open dialogue, he would "encourage the community to boycott." His later explanation that the community would "have enough reasons to abide by that boycott" certainly sounds like thinly veiled coercion.
The call to action worked. Negative comments rolled in on Burgerim's social media accounts, as did threats and calls from blocked numbers.
Despite Sam Zahr's attempts to deescalate the situation, and his repeated explanation that Burgerim is an American company, the threatening atmosphere persisted. Meanwhile, he continued to prepare his Dearborn franchise and several others.
On May 8, Zahr celebrated Ramadan with his community by offering free burgers under a tent outside his unopened store. That day, he says, Amer Zahr "came in and started taking video and shouting and screaming."
Overnight, Zahr's tent was "destroyed," and from there, he said things "got really bad and ugly."
Continuous threats from a single individual led Zahr to contact the FBI just days later. His lawyer filed a cease and desist order against Amer Zahr around the same time.
Last month, Zahr says he reached out to his congresswoman, Tlaib. He received no response. (Tlaib's press secretary also failed to respond to my request for comment on the situation.)
Finally, the unrelenting threats forced Zahr to shutter his original Dearborn franchise and pursue his other four Burgerim locations.
When he came to the United States in 1992, Sam Zahr was in search of opportunity. He had planned to bring 20-30 jobs to Dearborn and to unite his beloved community with his halal Burgerim franchise.
"Dearborn is really a beautiful community that has many diverse backgrounds of ethnicity," Zahr insists. He claims Amer Zahr is lying about where Burgerim's proceeds will go to make a political statement that is only dividing Dearborn residents.
Sam Zahr has tried to make sense of the protest, but cannot. "How are you gonna liberate Palestine from stopping a small burger joint that's going to open all the way in America?" he asked. He says a tension now follows him everywhere he goes in Dearborn. He admits he has "never been so scared in [his] life." His children, too, are "suffering a lot."
Zahr wonders why Tlaib supports BDS when the movement has attacked her constituent.
"I thought [she was] supposed to stand by me?" he lamented.
Amer Zahr, who made headlines for Tlaib in January when he placed a Post-It reading "Palestine" over Israel on the map in her congressional office, whipped up residents about the BDS boycott by stating that Burgerim locations in Israel were built "on stolen Palestinian land."
It is hardly a surprise that such inflammatory misinformation and rhetoric invoke more than a simple boycott.
The Anti-Defamation League produces fact sheets countering BDS supporter's false and emotional charges, including suggestions that Israel is racist, an apartheid state, undemocratic and discriminatory, or engaging in genocide.
I asked Carolyn Normandin, the ADL's regional director, whether BDS is anti-Semitic. She explained that, when diagnosing anti-Semitism, she looks for the "3 Ds: delegitimization, demonization, and a double standard" for Israel as a state. "We do believe," she said, "the fundamental founding goals of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic."
While trying to defend his "boycott" in a July 23 interview, Amer Zahr rejected charges that BDS is anti-Semitic. As evidence, he explained, "we fight against supporters of Israel — we debate them — who could be of any background, or any race, or any religion."
Zahr's statement shows that BDS is not merely an expression of anti-Semitism against Jews. It is instead the barely cloaked expression of anti-Semitism directed against anyone who dares support the Jewish State of Israel, or Israelis.
At a time when partisan tensions are high, the House of Representative united to condemn BDS. When she opposed H.R. 246, Tlaib called the resolution an "attack on our freedom of speech."
The threats against Zahr go beyond protected free speech. As Normandin explained, hate speech is "still free speech." However, when "hate speech moves into discrimination or bias-motivated violence, you have to step in."
With her constituent, an American citizen, being harassed and victimized in an attempt to keep him from economic participation in the name of BDS, Tlaib should reconsider her allegiance to the harmful and anti-Semitic movement.
Beth Bailey (@BWBailey85) is a freelance writer from the Detroit area.