As we buy our kids clothes for the summer, one can’t help but notice the watermelon all over cute rompers and dresses and t-shirts - the same symbol that the Free Palestine protest movement has adopted as its symbol. What once was a sweet summer print is now tarnished with anti-Israel, anti-Jewish sentiment. You never know when a watermelon is just a watermelon or when it is a signal of Jewish hate (because, let’s face it, these protesters don’t actually care about Palestinians; they only care about spreading anti-Jewish propaganda).

Several weeks ago, a group of bullies on social media called Operation Watermelon went into the comments sections of popular creators - creators who had nothing to do with Judaism or Israel - and spammed them with comments about Gaza, bullying them about not speaking up, or about enjoying their lives while others are suffering. As a result, a few creators ended up closing their accounts, having been basically bullied off the platform. One of the most famous of these creators is Elyse Meyers, who had just shared about her infant son having open-heart surgery when the bullies started on her. They didn’t care that her account wasn’t about anything to do with Israel; all they cared was that she dared talk about anything other than what was happening in Gaza (and, of course, their version of what was happening in Gaza). 

The behavior of Operation Watermelon is not so different from the behavior of the Free Palestine protesters on college campuses. These people are bullies, and they aren’t interested in peace (despite insisting they are). They aren’t open to dialogue. If you watch videos of anyone trying to talk to them, those people end up getting shut out or have slogans screamed in their face. Because that’s what these people do. They don’t want discourse. They don’t want to learn. Operation Watermelon, the college protesters - they’re all about bringing people down. They can’t handle questions, criticism, or any kind of debate. They just want everyone to be quiet and comply with their demands. That’s because they are essentially a cult.

Some of the defining characteristics of a cult include cutting members off from their friends and family, punishing people for leaving or disagreeing with the cult, forcing members to break rules or laws on the cult’s behalf, not allowing any questions, and the use of chants as a mind trick to create conformity with the group. If you watch videos of the protesters on college campuses, that is exactly what is going on.

As Jews, we are the complete opposite. We are a nation of discussion. Not only do we not shy away from debate, we encourage it. We celebrate individuality and unique thought. The Talmud is entirely made up of debate and conversation; that’s how we form connections and find truth. Learning Torah is basically synonymous with having a conversation. Just look at what Rabbi Akiva teaches us: Love your neighbor like yourself. It is one of the most important principles of Judaism. We are all about building connections and relationships. Even when we disagree, even when it looks like we are fighting, we are actually working toward a higher truth to bring us closer.

So, what does any of this have to do with the watermelon?

Right now, the watermelon has essentially been hijacked by the Free Palestine cult, when in reality, the fruit is the complete opposite of what they stand for: Watermelon is associated with summertime, with freedom, with sweetness, with joy. We eat watermelon when we get together in groups and converse and laugh and create moments of connection with each other.

A symbol only has meaning if we give it meaning. So let’s not let the people who hate us turn the watermelon into something ugly. The more we continue to enjoy watermelon as a food, as a print, as a design, the more we take away power from the haters to turn it into anything else. We have to show them that we don’t care how many watermelon emojis they put in their social media posts or paint on their banners–the symbol is meaningless as anything more than just a watermelon - a juicy, delicious, innocent watermelon.

Not only do we love watermelon in modern times, the Jewish people have a long history of loving this scrumptious fruit. In fact, according to the straight text of the Torah, B’nei Yisrael ate watermelon in Egypt and it was one of the foods they complained about missing. Watermelon is part of our ancient history, and there’s no reason to let people who hate us give it new meaning.

You might wonder why it’s so important to take back the watermelon. Israel is at war. Anti-Semitism is rampant all over the world. Who cares about whether or not you should buy your toddler a dress with watermelon print on it?

Here’s why.

It’s not really about the watermelon. It’s about not letting those who hate us have power over what we enjoy. They shout about our destruction. They lie about us. They create blood libels and rewrite our history. Go on, get angry. You should be angry. And, for crying out loud, we are not going to let them take our joy despite everything else they have done.

So enjoy watermelon this summer. Dress your kids in watermelon clothes. Use that watermelon picnic blanket or punch bowl. And you know what? Post pictures when you do it. Share with everyone that we don’t care what the haters have to say - we are who we are, and if we want to enjoy watermelon, we will!

By Shira Zwiren