Jacob Israël de Haan

Jacob Israël de Haan

Jacob Israël de Haan (December 31, 1881, Smilde, Drenthe - June 30, 1924) was a Dutch Jewish literary writer and journalist who was assassinated in Jerusalem by the Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah for his anti-Zionist political activities and contacts with Arab leaders.[1] He is believed to be the first victim of Zionist political violence. De Haan is revered as a martyr among certain sections of the Haredi Jewish community, particularly the Neturei Karta and Edah HaChareidis.


Early life

De Haan was born in the Netherlands, in Smilde, a village in the northern province of Drenthe, and grew up in Zaandam. He was one of eighteen children[citation needed] and received a traditional Jewish education. His father, Yitzchak HaLevi de Haan, was poor and worked as a hazzan and Shochet. His sister, best known under her married name Carry van Bruggen, became an important Dutch author.

De Haan worked as a teacher and studied law between 1903 and 1909. He wrote in socialist publications and various other magazines during these years. He was a friend of Frederik van Eeden and Arnold Aletrino, Dutch authors of the Tachtiger school.

In 1904, while living in Amsterdam, he wrote his controversial novel Pijpelijntjes ("Lines from De Pijp"), which pretends to be a thinly veiled version of his own gay life with Aletrino in Amsterdam's "Pijp" working-class district. The homo-eroticism of the book, shocking in the early 20th century, led to his dismissal from his teaching job and social-democratic political circles. Aletrino and Johanna van Maarseveen, de Haan's fiancée, bought almost the entire print run of the book, to keep a lid on the scandal.[2]

In 1907 he married van Maarseveen, a non-Jewish doctor, but this marriage is likely to have been platonic; they separated in 1919 but never officially divorced. A second controversial novel, Pathologieën (1908, "Pathologies") described the sorrows and joys of a sadomasochist relationship. However, this book went largely unnoticed, as did De Haan's prose sketches. He published five volumes of poems between 1914 and 1921 that brought him some acclaim.

"Precursor of Amnesty International"

In 1912 de Haan made some trips to Czarist Russia, and he visited a number of prisons there, in order to study the situation of political prisoners in Russia. He published his shocking findings in his book "In Russian prisons" (1913). He also founded a committee, together with Dutch writer Frederik van Eeden and Dutch poet Henriette Roland Holst, which aimed at collecting signatures for the sake of inducing especially Russia's then allies France and Great Britain to exert pressure on Russia for alleviating the fate of the prisoners. In a publication of Amnesty International he was, because of these activities, described as "a precursor of Amnesty International".[3]

Interest in Judaism and departure for Jerusalem

Around 1910, De Haan developed an interest in Judaism, the Land of Israel and Zionism. This seems to have begun as a result of the mass imprisonment of Jews in Tsarist Russia, suspected of Bolshevism, and his work to free them. According to historical records, de Haan went to Russia armed with a letter of recommendation from the Queen of the Netherlands and was able to negotiate leniency for his Jewish clients. His work for Russian Jews lasted two years and made him keenly aware of the evils of anti-Semitism.

Prior to his departure for Palestine de Haan is described as being:

...In 1919, two years after the Balfour Declaration, this Poet of the Jewish Song took the next logical step and emigrated to Palestine "anxious to work at rebuilding Land, People and Language" as De Haan put it to Chaim Weitzman in his application for a passport. The same letter assumed his stance with aplomb. False modesty was never one of his faults. With a mixture of the martyred doubts many Zionist emigrants had, and the pride of a well-established position, De Haan wrote: "I am not leaving Holland to improve my condition. Neither materially, nor intellectually will life in Palestine be equal to my life here. I am one of the best poets of my Generation, and the only important Jewish national poet Holland has ever had. It is difficult to give up all this."...
The Palestine De Haan entered on a bitter stormy winter day in January 1919 was above all an intricate country. Arguably it had the most confusing political conditions of that politically complicated moment when the Versailles Peace Conference was about to begin. One might call it a natural habitat for this cranky man. It was the "twice promised country," to the Arabs in the Arab Revolt T. E. Lawrence existentialized in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and to the Jews (or rather in practice the Zionists) by the Balfour Declaration calling for creation of a Jewish Homeland. De Haan arrived there as an ardent, even fanatical, Zionist. Indeed, the first secret Zionist report about him refers to his ranting anti-Arab remarks made at a party...[4]

Life in Palestine

De Haan rapidly became more religiously committed. He was angered by Zionist refusals to cooperate with Arabs.[5] He wrote extensively on the subject of Israel and Zionism even before he moved there in 1919, when he settled in Jerusalem, teaching at a new law school and sending articles to the Algemeen Handelsblad ("General Trade Journal"), one of the most important Dutch daily newspapers, and the De Groene Amsterdammer ("The Green Amsterdam Weekly"), a liberal weekly.

At first he aligned himself with religious Zionism and the Mizrachi movement, but after meeting Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld leader of the Haredi Jewish community, he became the political spokesman of the Haredim in Jerusalem and was elected political secretary of the Orthodox community council, Vaad Ha'ir.[6]

In one of his poems he asks himself whether his visits to the Wailing Wall were motivated by a desire for God or for the Arab boys there.[7]

He endeavoured to get an agreement with Arab nationalist leaders to allow unrestricted Jewish immigration into Palestine in exchange for a Jewish declaration foregoing the Balfour Declaration.[8] During this time it is alleged that he continued to have relationships with men, including Arabs from east Jerusalem.[2]

The secular Zionist establishment would not allow the established Haredi community in Palestine to be represented in the Jewish Agency in the 1920s[citation needed]. In response, the Haredim founded an Agudat Israel branch in Jerusalem to represent their interests in Mandate Palestine. The leader of the Haredi Jews in Palestine at the time, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld chose de Haan to organize and represent the Haredi position on a diplomatic level equal to that of the secular Zionists. When Lord Northcliffe, a British publisher, was about to visit the Middle East, de Haan went to Alexandria in Egypt to present the case of Palestine's Haredim before he reached Palestine:

He spoke about the tyranny of the official Zionist movement. The journalists of the Northcliffe party gleefully reported all that back home. As a result of this contact, De Haan was appointed correspondent for the Daily Express, a one-penny paper that made much of everyday scandals. Already in Dutch circles he was the reputed volksverrader, traitor of his own people, and now his views spread throughout Great Britain and its Global Empire. Although his messages were short and few compared to his articles in the Handelsblad (the news from the Middle East in the Daily Express was more concerned with the mysteries of the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt than with the intricate Palestine politics) the Zionist authorities both in Palestine and London became very worried. There was a great potential danger from these critical reports from a Jew who actually lived and worked right on this hot spot.[4]

De Haan also met with the Hashemite leader Hussein bin Ali seeking his support for the Yishuv Hayashan (the pre-Zionist Jewish community in the Holy Land), and explaining the Haredi Jewish opposition to the Zionist plans of founding a state, and supporting the establishment of an official Palestinian state in Jordan within a federation.


De Haan was assassinated on 30 June 1924 in Jerusalem by members of Haganah,[9] and final responsibility was attributed to Zionists alarmed by his political activities in favour of a settlement with Arab leaders.

The 1985 publication of De Haan: The first political assassination in Palestine, by Shlomo Nakdimon and Shaul Mayzlish,[10] revived wider interest in his assassination.

Avraham Tehomi, assassin of Jacob Israël de Haan

Nakdimon and Mayzlish were able to trace the assassin, Avraham Tehomi (1903–1990), then a businessman living in Hong Kong. Tehomi was interviewed for Israeli TV by Nakdimon and openly stated: "I have done what the Haganah decided had to be done. And nothing was done without the order of Yitzhak Ben-Zvi (who later became the second president of Israel 1952-1963)... I have no regrets because he (de Haan) wanted to destroy our whole idea of Zionism" (Nakdimon). Tehomi denied allegations that De Haan's assassination was related to his homosexuality: "I neither heard nor knew about this", adding "why is it someone's business what he does at his home?" According to Gert Hekma, Zionists spread a rumour he had been killed by Arabs because of his sexual relations with Arab boys.[11]

Aftermath and commemoration

De Haan's murder is considered the first political murder in the Jewish community in Palestine. His activities were perceived as undermining the struggle for the establishment of a Jewish state, but the assassination sparked a controversy and was harshly condemned by some. Labor movement publicist Moshe Beilinson wrote:

The flag of our movement must not be tarnished. Neither by the blood of the innocent, nor by the blood of the guilty. Otherwise - our movement will be bad, because blood draws other bloods. Blood always takes revenge and if you walk down this path once, you do not know where it would lead you.

German author Arnold Zweig published a book in 1932 based on De Haan's life called "De Vriendt kehrt heim" (English title "De Vriendt Goes Home"). The Israeli writer Haim Beer's book "Notzot" (1979, translated into English as Feathers) also has a character based on De Haan.

In Haredi circles De Haan is considered a martyr, killed by secular Jews while protecting the Jewish religion. During the 1980s, the Haredi community in Jerusalem tried to change the name of the Zupnik Garden to commemorate De Haan.


Although De Haan's fame waned after his death, his works have been published and reprinted in a fairly constant stream. Even in the nazified Netherlands De Haan's friend David Koker managed to publish his Brieven uit Jeruzalem ('Letters from Jerusalem') in a little book. In 1949, a committee was founded with the object to publish a collected edition of the poems, which duly followed in 1952. A 'Society Jacob Israël de Haan' furthered other publications: philosophical aphorisms and letters, and a memoir by his sister Mies de Haan. In the 1960s two attempts at a biography were published, and after 1970 an actual De Haan-revival brought with it a flood of publicity. Many of his publications about law and significs have been reprinted, as were his novels, and his earlier prose has been rescued from obscure magazines. Dozens of bibliophile editions honoured his poems and prose sketches. Many magazine articles and other publications about his life were published, and generated heated debates. A large volume of his correspondence (only of the period 1902-1908), published in 1994, shed a bright light on his life, but a full-scale biography has yet to be written.

Through the years, in the Netherlands there have been projects, festivals and theatre productions commemorating Jacob Israël de Haan's work and life. A line from De Haan's poem "To a Young Fisherman": "For friendship such a limitless longing...", is inscribed on one of the three sides of the Homomonument in Amsterdam.



  • 1900-1908 De Haan published poetry in several magazines during these years. These early poems however have never been collected in a book
  • 1914 - Libertijnsche liederen ('Libertine songs')
  • 1915 - Het Joodsche lied. Eerste boek ('Jewish song, first book')
  • 1917 - Liederen ('Songs')
  • 1919 - Een nieuw Carthago ('A new Carthage', Carthage being a metaphor for Antwerp in this case)
  • 1921 - Het Joodsche lied. Tweede boek ('Jewish song, second book')
  • 1924 - Kwatrijnen ('Quatrains')
  • 1952 - Verzamelde gedichten ('Collected poems'); complete poetry 1909-1924 in two volumes, edited by K. Lekkerkerker
  • 1982 - Ik ben een jongen te Zaandam geweest ('I was a boy in Zaandam'), anthology edited by Gerrit Komrij


  • 1904 - Pijpelijntjes (last reprint 2006)
  • 1904 - Kanalje ('Rabble'; reprint 1977)
  • 1907 - Ondergangen ('Perditions'; reprint 1984)
  • 1905-1910 - Nerveuze vertellingen ('Nervous Tales', published in various magazines, first collected in 1983)
  • 1907-1910 - Besliste volzinnen ('Decided Sentences', aphorisms published in magazines, collected for the first time in 1954)
  • 1908 - Pathologieën. De ondergang van Johan van Vere de With ('Pathologies. The Perdition of Johan van Vere de With'; last reprint 2003)


  • 1916 - Wezen en taak der rechtskundige significa. Inaugural address
  • 1916 - Rechtskundige significa en hare toepassing op de begrippen: 'aansprakelijk, verantwoordelijk, toerekeningsvatbaar'" (dissertatie)
  • 1919 - Rechtskundige significa


  • 1913 - In Russische gevangenissen ('In Russian Prisons')
  • From Palestine De Haan sent many sketches and articles to the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Handelsblad. These never have been completely published in book form, but there are several collections:
  • 1922 - Jeruzalem
  • 1925 - Palestina with an introduction by Carry van Bruggen
  • 1941 - Brieven uit Jeruzalem edited by David Koker ('Letters from Jerusalem')
  • 1981 - Jacob Israël de Haan - correspondent in Palestina, 1919-1924. Collected and edited by Ludy Giebels


  • 1994 - Brieven van en aan Jacob Israël de Haan 1899-1908. Edited by Rob Delvigne and Leo Ross

See also


  1. ^ Marijke T.C.Stapert-Eggen. "The Rosenthaliana's Jacob Israel de Haan Archive". University of Amsterdam Library. http://cf.uba.uva.nl/nl/publicaties/treasures/text/t44.html. 
  2. ^ a b Gert Hekma. "Jacob Israel de Haan: sexology, poetry, politics". University of Queensland, Centre for the History of European Discourses. http://www.ched.uq.edu.au/index.html?page=39747&pid=0. 
  3. ^ "Wordt Vervolgd" (Amnesty International, Section Netherlands), March 1987
  4. ^ a b Ludy Giebels. "On de Haan". Exquisite Corpse. http://www.corpse.org/archives/issue_5/critical_urgencies/giebels.htm. 
  5. ^ Gert Hekma, Harry Oosterhuis, James D. Steakley (eds.)Gay men and the sexual history of the political left, Part 1, Routledge, 1995 p.106.
  6. ^ Sonnenfeld, Shlomo Zalman (1983). Guardian of Jerusalem: The Life and Times of Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld. adapted by Hillel Danziger. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications. ISBN 0-89906-459-0. 
  7. ^ Robert F. Aldrich, Colonialism and homosexuality,Psychology Press, 2003 p.84.
  8. ^ Menachem Friedman, 'Haredim and Palestinians in Jerusalem,' in Marshall J. Berger, Ora Ahimeir, Jerusalem: a city and its future, Syracuse University Press, 2002, pp.235-255, p.238.
  9. ^ Menachem Friedman, ibid. p.238.
  10. ^ Shlomo Nakdimon; Shaul Mayzlish (1985) (in Hebrew). De Haan: ha-retsah ha-politi ha-rishon be-Erets Yisraʼel / De Haan: The first political assassination in Palestine (1st Edition ed.). Tel Aviv: Modan Press. OCLC 21528172. 
  11. ^ Gert Hekma, 'De Haan, Jacob Israel' in Robert Aldrich, Garry Wotherspoon (eds.) Who's who in gay and lesbian history: from antiquity to World War II, Routledge, 2003 p.143

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