DEARBORN – The owner of the controversial Israeli burger franchise Burgerim, slated to operate on the border of Detroit and Dearborn, is abandoning his plans to open its new location.
Sam Zahr, a Lebanese American and Dearborn resident, decided to open the restaurant after the success of the franchise in another Metro Detroit location.
He signed a lease to open up the new location on Greenfield Road near Warren Avenue, but was met with protests and concern over the Israeli brand's presence in the predominantly Arab community.
He told The Arab American News last year that his decision to open was to simply bring his business to a new neighborhood and that he had no political intentions. He also said that in a secular country, it was pointless to base business decisions on the religious affiliations of neighbors.
Critics and Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) supporters saw things differently, however.
One notable critic, Amer Zahr, is a well-known Palestinian American comedian and associate law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy. He is not related to Sam Zahr.
He launched a campaign to bring awareness of to the unseemly nature of operating an Israeli franchise in Dearborn.
"Burgerim's rise was performed on stolen Palestinian land, supported by the same state that is responsible for millions of Palestinian refugees, daily home demolitions, the denial of civil rights to non-Jews, indiscriminate bombings of Palestinian neighborhoods, the jailing of Palestinian children and more," he wrote in a blog post earlier this month.
Though Sam Zahr's and Burgerim's lawyers have insisted the business has no real affiliation with Israel and its government, Amer Zahr questioned why the franchise, with locations all over the country, is gushed over in media outlets for its Israeli affiliation.
Burgerim also sent a cease and desist order to Amer Zahr earlier this year, following his many critical posts on Facebook and Instagram.
Zahr argues in his post that Burgerim's franchises in Israel "carry the history of Palestinian suffering and dispossession."
He provides a list of franchise locations in occupied Palestine and includes numbers of Palestinians displaced by Israeli settlements in those areas.
"Don't forget to get extra cheese on your burger in Yavne," he remarks, sardonically. "Palestinians used to live there, in their village of Yabne, until 5,000 were kicked out."
Such campaigning has worked in the boycott campaign led by Amer Zahr and the organization New Generation for Palestine. He is the organization's board president.
As for Sam Zahr, he said he's disappointed by the events, but plans to continue expanding his business by opening new locations in Oak Park and Redford.