Haan, Jacob Israël de

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HAAN, JACOB ISRAËL DE (1881–1924), Dutch poet and novelist, international jurist, and journalist, politically active in Palestine during the early years of the Mandate until assassinated. Born in Smilde, De Haan was the son of a cantor and the younger brother of the authoress Carry van *Bruggen. Marked by a complex personality, his life was full of contradictions: extreme generosity opposing cruelty and downright meanness, a lucid rationality versus a strong inclination towards mysticism. A remarkable constancy in his life on the other hand lies in an emotional and at the same time practical sense of justice. A further complicating factor was De Haan's homosexuality.

De Haan started his career as a teacher and editor of the children's page of Het Volk, the leading Dutch Socialist newspaper. Having abandoned the Jewish faith he became active in the Socialist movement. In 1904 he published the novel Pijpelijntjes, which depicted candidly and without apology the homosexual relationship between two young men. Its publication led to a scandal and to his dismissal as teacher and editor. Although the turmoil caused a severe physical and psychological crisis, he published another novel, Pathologieën (1908), in which the homosexual theme was extended into an essentially sadomasochistic relationship. This novel is still considered the only Dutch work in the genre of Decadent Symbolism. In the meantime he began to study law and married a non-Jewish woman. A few years after his marriage he returned to the Orthodox faith and Judaism became the main theme in his poetry. At a time when the Jewish contribution to Dutch literature was significant, De Haan became its main protagonist as a self-styled Poet of the Jewish Song. Meanwhile, social and political abuses remained uppermost in his mind. When international indignation about the fate of political prisoners in Czarist Russia was strong, De Haan visited extensively both political and criminal prisons in Russia and published a moving account of his experiences (In Russische gevangenissen, 1913). He was successful in interceding with the Russian authorities in favor of some political prisoners. In the course of his law studies he associated himself with the new international school of Significs, which dedicated itself to probing the meaning of words and terms. According to the Significs, analyzing language and purifying it from false meanings could solve many social problems. De Haan specialized in legal terminology and in 1916 published his thesis Rechtskundige significa en hare toepassing op de begrippen: ''aansprakelijk, verantwoordelijk, toerekeningsvatbaar." Though he surprised the Dutch legal world by his original, intelligent analysis and by the colorful style of his articles, in the end he failed through an apparent inability to formulate a consistent theory of significs. In 1917 he was passed over for an appointment as professor in criminal law at the Municipal University of Amsterdam.

During these years, as De Haan developed his Jewish poetry, he took to Zionism and became a member of the Mizrachi movement. Disappointment in his legal career, compounded by the spiritual conflict into which his marriage to a non-Jewish woman had brought him, and his growing Jewish-national consciousness persuaded him to go to Palestine to witness and take part in the Zionist experiment. He was appointed Palestinian correspondent for the leading Dutch newspaper Het Algemeen Handelsblad, receiving a handsome salary. Covering thousands of pages, he wrote perhaps the most vivid, humorous and moving chronicle of life in Palestine in the years following World War i. In January 1919 he arrived in Jerusalem an ardent Zionist, watched by the Mandatory government because of his anti-Arab utterances. He also played a part in the legal defense of Zionists who were prosecuted for defending themselves in the anti-Zionist riots in the spring of 1920. Together with *Jabotinsky he became lector at the Law School that had been established by the British. But in about a year and a half he became appalled at what he considered the aggressive and tactless nationalism of the young Zionist movement. De Haan often expressed his sympathy for the Arab-Palestinian cause. Yet his main grievance was the subordination of non-Zionist orthodoxy to a Zionist, partly layman, rabbinical organization. He became the most formidable spokesman for the Jerusalem Agudat Israel, led by Rabbi Chaim *Sonnenfeld. He acquired for this Orthodox group access to leading non-Jewish politicians and opinion leaders, e.g., the. press magnate Lord Northcliffe, who appointed him correspondent for The Daily Express. He also led an Agudist delegation to King Hussein of the Hejaz on the occasion of the latter's visit to his son Abdallah, king of Trans-Jordan in 1924.

However, the question remains as to how effective De Haan's actions were: At the end of his life he was considered deranged by friends and enemies alike. His diplomatic success lay mainly in the fact that he – though only for the time while – had a part in thwarting Herbert Samuel's efforts to establish a kind of public legal status for Palestine Jewry, including the authority to raise taxes in religious matters. The still vulnerable Zionist movement felt discredited by De Haan's criticism, which was shared by a number of Zionists but never systematically brought to the non-Jewish world as he did. Besides, in exposing misleading Zionist pretensions, De Haan was a master in ridiculing his opponents. In the last two years of his life he was repeatedly menaced by death threats. It is still not clear if these were merely meant to frighten him away from the Palestinian scene. What prompted the actual murder is not known. Evidently, at the end of his life De Haan was planning to expose more embarrassing failings in the National Home, e.g., the embezzlement of Zionist funds by Chaim *Kalvarisky, who administered a program for Arab-Jewish rapprochement. Whatever the real reasons, the highest echelons of militant Palestine Zionism had decided to eliminate him and on June 30, 1924, he was shot to death on the orders of the Haganah, the first known political assassination in the Zionist movement. The news of his death drew worldwide attention, including in the Arab countries. After the hate-campaign against De Haan, his murder deeply embarrassed the Zionist organization, but at the time it could divert suspicion to the Arabs because of the well-known fondness of the deceased for Arab boys. Only in the 1960s was the Zionist responsibility gradually revealed. The enigmas in De Haan's life can be perceived to resonate posthumously. At present he is still regarded as the champion of both Dutch homosexual liberation and international anti-Zionist Jewish Orthodoxy.


J. Meijer, De zoon van een gazzen. Het leven van Jacob Israël de Haan, 18811924 (1967). add. bibliography: E. Marmorstein, A Martyr's Message. To Commemorate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Murder of Professor De Haan (1975); L. Giebels, in: Studia Rosenthaliana, 13 (1979), 194–219; 14 (1980), 44–79; 15 (1981), 111–42; 188–216; idem, in: Exquisite Corpse, nos. 5 and 6, at: www.corpse.org; R.H. Delvigne and L. Ross, Brieven van en aan Jacob Israël de Haan 18991908 (1994); G.C.J.J. van den Bergh (ed.), De taal zegt meer danzij verantwoorden kan (1994); M. Berkowitz, in: A.T. Alt and J. Berhard, Arnold Zweig. Sein Werk im Kontext der deutschsprachigen Exilliteratur. Jahrbuch fuer internationale Germanistik (1999), 111–24.

[Henriette Boas /

Ludy Giebels (2nd ed.)]