Burgerim, a burger chain founded in Israel, has delayed plans to open a restaurant in Dearborn, the Detroit Free Press reports. Franchisee Sam Zahr cited boycotts and threats related to the chain’s connections to Israel as the reason he decided to hold off on opening the location.
Burgerim, whose name means “many burgers” in Hebrew, was founded in Tel Aviv in 2011 and established its first U.S. location in Los Angeles in 2013. The restaurants serve a menu featuring items slider trios, chicken strips, and full-sized burgers such as the Spanish Beef with habañero aioli, grilled jalapeños, and pepper jack cheese. Many of the items are halal. The chain then relaunched in 2016 and now manages its American-based business interests from a headquarters in California, overseeing a major national expansion of the brand. Michigan’s first Burgerim location opened in Bingham Farms earlier this year and the chain has since started the process of establishing new locations throughout the region including one in Royal Oak, Redford Township, and Oak Park.
Sam Zahr, a first generation Lebanese American, began receiving criticism last fall as he began the process of establishing the Dearborn restaurant. Palestinian activist, comedian, and associate law professor at Detroit Mercy, Amer Zahr (who is unrelated to Sam Zahr) told the Arab American News in September that he felt it was important to he wished to start a dialogue with Sam Zahr about aligning with a company established in Israel and that if the owner wasn’t receptive he would call for a boycott of the business in line with the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement. The BDS movement works to encourage companies, consumers, and political figures sever ties with Israel and its products with the goal of putting economic pressure on the Israeli state to change its treatment of the Palestinian people.
During Ramadan, the Burgerim outpost had set up a tent with free burgers outside of the forthcoming location. However, the Facebook post announcing the event features multiple comments calling on customers to boycott the pop-up. Sam Zahr tells the Detroit Free Press that a separate Ramadan tent set up in front of his Royal Oak restaurant was vandalized. He also stated that he received threatening messages on social media. Attorneys for Burgerim sent Amer Zahr cease and desist letter in May characterizing his campaign against Burgerim as “defamatory.” Representatives for Burgerim claim in the cease and desist that the American business for the chain is completely independent from the Israel branch. “Indeed, as many as 50 percent of our franchisees are Arab-American,” the letter states.
On July 19, Amer Zahr shared a post to Facebook stating that the sign for Burgerim Dearborn had been removed. “The Burgerim sign has been taken down before its scheduled opening,” he writes. “This isn’t a time to celebrate or gloat. It’s a time to recognize what we can achieve when we collectively make our voices heard here in #Dearborn and #Michigan. The Burgerim corporation out of California tried to bully us into silence with legal threats. I guess they don’t understand Palestinians and our allies very well. Thanks to the franchisee, landlord, and any others involved for making the right decision here.”
Reached by Eater, Burgerim’s operator says in a message that they’ve not made a final decision on whether to cancel plans entirely for the Dearborn restaurant. Sam Zahr is continuing to operate his new Royal Oak restaurant and moving forward with new locations in Oak Park, Redford Township, and elsewhere.