Jacob de Haan, the first victim of a Zionist Political Assassination was a Gay anti-Zionist Jew, the representative of Jerusalem’s Orthodox Haredi Jews

Jacob de Haan, the first victim of a Zionist Political Assassination was a Gay anti-Zionist Jew, the representative of Jerusalem’s Orthodox Haredi Jews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jacob de Haan, the first victim of a Zionist Political Assassination was a Gay anti-Zionist Jew, the representative of Jerusalem’s Orthodox Haredi Jews

The murder was ordered by Yitzhak ben Zvi, who became Israel’s second President – Zionism has always feared Jewish anti-Zionists because we are the living proof of their lies 

When the Board of Deputies issued their 10 Commandments to candidates in the Labour leadership elections they were careful to ensure that the candidates pledged that they would not meet with dissident Jewish groups that the Zionist Board didn’t approve.  Anti-Zionist Jews have always been one of the principal targets of the Zionists because we are living proof that their claim to represent Jewish interests is a lie.

I am indebted to Richard Silverstein, whose article I copy below, for writing this article about someone who has been long and undeservedly forgotten. Jacob de Haan was openly gay before it was fashionable to come out.


Board of Deputies’ Commandment No. 8 – do not mix with ‘fringe’ Jewish groups and individuals

But whereas the Zionist leaders in 1924 had Jacob de Haan assassinated by the Haganah terrorist group, today their chosen weapon is ‘anti-Semitism’. When I happen to meet up with Zionists you can see the hatred burning in their eyes as they call us ‘traitors’ ‘self-haters’ and so on. If you are not loyal to your ‘nation’ and its bastard offspring, Israel, then you are worse even than an Arab.

So it was that Jacob de Haan, the representative of the ultra-Orthodox haredi in Palestine was felled by an assassin’s bullet. De Haan wasn’t the only victim of a Zionist assassination.  Count Folk Bernadotte, the UN mediator, was also assassinated in November 1948 in Jerusalem.  Bernadotte, who was personally responsible for the rescue of thousands of Jews from the concentration camps, wanted the UN to take responsibility for Jerusalem as an international city.  However this is for another day.


Poem by Haan in Amsterdam

Jacob de Haan was open about being gay and today he is remembered by a poem etched on a memorial in central Amsterdam. Ido Liven describes how one stone pillar standing in central Amsterdam is anything but a tourist attraction, certainly nothing like the Rembrandt House Museum just across the street. Rather, it is a memorial dedicated to Jacob Israël de Haan, who was murdered 90 years ago today.

The modest monument dedicated to him, located at what used to be Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter, bears a quote from one of his poems that was published the same year he was assassinated:

Who in Amsterdam often said ‘Jerusalem’
And finds himself driven to Jerusalem
Whispers in a wistful voice
‘Amsterdam, Amsterdam’

And yet, in 2001 it was The Netherlands that became the world’s first nation to legalize same-sex marriage. In fact, in January 2012, Amsterdam’s Jewish community suspended its chief rabbi after he had written that homosexuality is an incurable disease.

Also, mixed couples – married or not – are also a non-issue in The Netherlands.

In Israel none of that is possible. Sadly, in a society that sees itself as open and liberal, both same-sex and inter-religious (or simply civil) marriage are considered a red rag. In fact, had he lived today, De Haan would probably have been as much of an outcast today as he was before being assassinated in 1924.

Ha’aretz’s David Green described how, in 1922, the same year that Jacob de Haan defended Agudath Israel, the Haredi political movement, in a trial over its refusal to pay a new excise tax levied by Zionist authorities on matzot before Passover, he also met with Lord Northcliffe, founder of the Daily Mail newspaper in London, when the latter visited the region. He shared his anti-Zionist views with Northcliffe and those views were reported back in the United Kingdom. Soon, de Haan was offered work as a correspondent for the Daily Express. De Haan also met with Hashemite leader Hussein bin Ali, the King of Hejaz, to discuss the establishment of a Palestinian state.

These were the days when the Tory press, The Daily Express and Mail, were vehemently opposed to the Palestine Mandate which they saw as a waste of imperial treasure and serving no useful purpose except antagonising the Arabs.  Probably not a stance that they want reminding of today.

De Haan became persona non grata among Zionists, including his law students. One anecdote has him walking with a Dutch visitor, who observed that as people passed them into the street, they were spitting on the sidewalk. The visitor thought this was a sign of disrespect, to which de Haan responded, according to Dutch historian Ludy Giebels: “”Oh no, they spit on the street out of respect for you, your presence. Otherwise they would have spit in my face.”

It was only in the 1980s that his assassin,  Avraham Tehomi, told two Israeli journalists, Shlomo Nakdimon and Shaul Mayzlish, that he had been acting on orders of the Haganah, specifically Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, an officer in the militia and a political activist:

“I have done what the Haganah decided had to be done. And nothing was done without the order of Yitzhak Ben-Zvi … I have no regrets because he [de Haan] wanted to destroy our whole idea of Zionism.”

He has been described as a Jewish Lawrence of Arabia


Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, spiritual leader of Israel’s Haredi Jews

Jacob De Haan:
Zionism, Murder and Martyrdom

May 13, 2020 by Richard Silverstein

There are a number of figures who played major roles in the pre-State era who have unjustly faded into oblivion. Jacob De Haan is one of these.  He packed more life into his short 43 years than others could pack in several lifetimes.  He was a teacher, poet, journalist, lawyer and a close confidant of one of Israel’s leading religious figures of the first decades of the 20th century, Rabbi Chaim Sonnenfeld. At various times in his life he was a socialist, an atheist who married a non-Jew, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, a Zionist, and an anti-Zionist. He was also gay and publicly identified himself as such.

De Haan was born in a small northern Dutch village, one of sixteen children, born to a father who was a cantor, melamed (religious teacher) and ritual shochet (slaughterer).   He himself earned his teaching certification and became a teacher, later moving to Amsterdam.  There he taught in the city schools and became a socialist.  He lost his religious faith and married a non-Jewish doctor ten years his senior, who later supported him in his legal studies.

He became editor of the children’s page of the socialist party’s newspaper.  At the same time, he began frequenting the city’s gay underworld and wrote an explicitly homoerotic novel, Pijpelijntjes (“Pipelines”).  The novel recounts his relationship with a prominent married medical doctor who pioneered the field of criminal anthropologist, Arnold Aletrino.  The book is dedicated to him.  As it became popular, Aletrino became scandalized by the notoriety and he, together with De Haan’s then-fiance, traveled throughout the city to buy up every copy they could find.  A second edition removed the dedication to Aletrino and changed the main characters’ names in order to distance them from their real-life originals.

The book’s focus on the gay demi-monde and the characters’ flirtations with young boys and portrayal of sadomasochistic behavior ended his career as a children’s journalist and his teaching career as well. But De Haan was undeterred and continued to write homosexual novels and poetry.

His contemporaries noted he was what Ludi Geibels calls (p. 110) “a figure of striking personality.”  The death of his mother, who played an outsize role in life, brought on a severe mental breakdown.  In his poetry, he gives voice to flights of ecstatic spiritual rapture alternating with a celebration of carnal lust.  His novels portray his obsession with sadomasochism sex play. The existence of such dichotomies in the same soul seems one of the most striking characteristics of his personality.

This tortured attempt to integrate one’s sexuality in the context of society and its expectation is a trait commonly seen in the lives of many gay individuals, though attempting to bridge homosexuality and the life of an ultra-Orthodox Jew seems one of the most extreme examples of such integration.

The British governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, who De Haan admired, portrayed him as “facially an intellectual version of Vincent Van Gogh, whose dreadful glare of an unknown terror sometimes blazed in his eyes.” Today, undoubtedly he might have received a diagnosis of manic-depressive disorder.  Given his massive struggle with his sexual identity, it’s astonishing how productive and ambitious were his political achievements in the few years he lived in Palestine before his murder.

De Haan’s older sister, Carry van Bruggen, was also a distinguished writer known for her literary innovation and rebelliousness.  She suffered from depression her entire life and committed suicide at the age of 51.

Back in the Netherlands, De Haan had already enrolled in the law school and earned his law degree, where he made his mark as a legal theoretician.  He pioneered the field of semiotics in the law, which “demonstrated that legal writing often contained (and obscured) hidden agendas, and altered power relations in ways not explicitly expressed.”  He specialized in criminal law and became interested in the plight of the Jews of eastern Europe and Russia who faced pogroms and massive waves of anti-Semitism.  Common at the time was the notion that Jews were identified with criminality, a notion prevalent in European criminal law, which De Haan disputed.

After his socialist comrades abandoned him, De Haan turned to an altogether different political movement, Zionism.  The suffering of the Jews in Russia moved him and he came to see Zionism as a means of providing safe haven for such communities.

He combined his scholarly and Zionist interests with a two-year-long trip to Russia where he conducted research on the Czarist prisons.  In particular, he focussed on the Jewish inmates often accused of sympathy for the Bolsheviks.   He described his trip as “two full years of unremitting work in Russia on behalf of his suffering Jews.”

Trip to Czarist Russia and Turn to Orthodox Judaism

Sometime during his Russia travels he returned to the faith of his ancestors and resumed Orthodox Jewish practices.  On his return, he joined the Orthodox Zionist party, the Mizrahi.  At this point he began to consider making aliyah to Palestine, a calling heard in the recitations from the daily prayer book.  If he could not make his mark in Holland, he would set out on a new adventure as the first Dutch Jew to emigrate to the Holy Land.  At the suggestion of a leading Zionist, Israel Zangwill, De Haan wrote to Chaim Weizmann, offering himself as a leading Dutch Jewish poet of his generation eager to do his part on behalf of his people.

Weizmann was not impressed. The Zionist movement in 1919, when he arrived, did not need poets.  It needed clerks, teachers, mechanics, farmers, guards and ideologues.  He didn’t receive the rapturous welcome he expected when he arrived in Jerusalem.  But he did take up a teaching position in the British Mandate’s new College of Law.  He joined Vladimir Jabotinsky as a co-founder of the law program.When the latter was arrested by the British for organized an armed militia to defend Jews during the Palestinian riots, De Haan joined his legal defense, where he provided flamboyant and effective counsel.

Increasingly, De Haan found himself at odds with the Yishuv Zionist leadership in its approach toward both the Orthodox and Palestinian communities.  Dishonest land deals negotiated by Zionist financiers, which deprived Palestinian peasants of land and livelihood distressed him in particular.  He gravitated toward the ultra-Orthodox movement which, through the Agudat Yisrael organization, represented a significant percentage of the Jewish population of Palestine, especially in communities like Hebron, Tiberias, Jerusalem, and Safed.

Unlike the secular or Orthodox Zionists, the Agudah championed both Ashkenazi and Sefardi Jews in Palestine, marking a major break from the Yishuv’s focus largely on the Eastern European Ashkenazi (a bias that continued for decades even after the establishment of the State).

Disciple of Rabbi Sonnenfeld

In this period, De Haan met and became a disciple of the leader of the Haredi community, Rabbi Sonnenfeld.  Originally from Austro-Hungary, Sonnenfeld was not a typical holy man.  He was learned in both secular and religious fields and open to the world outside Judaism in ways that many of his disciples were not.  He was also quite astute politically and understood that De Haan’s legal training and sharp political mind was something lacking amidst the Agudah’s fold. Michael Berkowitz quotes Sonnenfeld:

He knew that he required

“a loyal and well-versed lawyer to plead in the courts, advise delegates to conferences, draft petitions and memoranda, study proposals and precendents and explain the general situation in answer to sympathetic inquiries.”

This suited De Haan to a ‘T,’ and they took an immediate liking to each other with the Dutchman becoming one of the rabbi’s most trusted advisors.  He became something akin to a foreign minister for the Haredim: its representative to the outside non-Jewish world.  He spoke up to the British Mandatory authorities not only on behalf of the interests of the Haredim, but also in opposition to the prevailing Zionist movement.  De Haan also became a powerful journalist-advocate who wrote columns for Dutch and English newspapers which advanced ideas in direct contradiction of those of the Zionist movement. He was handsomely remunerated for his journalistic reportage, which afforded him financial independence from Palestinian society.

De Haan’s homosexuality was well-known and Sonnenfeld understood that his protege’s skills in advancing the Haredi cause were more important than the sin represented by his sexual identity.  It is a remarkably progressive (or perhaps cynical) view, considering the absolute taboo against homosexuality inscribed in Jewish religious law.

Ultra-Orthodoxy, Anti-Zionism and Political Threat

The Haredim opposed national sovereignty and creation of a State for religious reasons (awaiting the Messiah who would restore the Davidic monarchy).  They preferred to remain under British colonial control, believing that the Empire would afford Jews security in their homeland.  But they did not ignore the Palestinians living in their midst.  They understood that they shared the land with them and sought ways to co-exist peacefully.  This was one of the reasons Haredim opposed shoddy land deals negotiated between Ottoman absentee landlords and Zionist purchasers.  De Haan also roiled the Zionists when he pursued independent diplomacy, meeting with Arab monarchs who exercised authority (or sought to do so) in Palestine.

At the same time, De Haan, the cultivated and learned European Jew, enjoyed a prominent role in Jewish society frequenting soirees at the home of a prominent Jewish socialite which brought together literary, cultural and civic figures including British officials.  He used such an entree to impress the British with his sophistication and erudition, becoming a favored interlocutor among both the Jewish and British elite class.

This too rankled the Zionists, who sprang from the Eastern Europe working class and prided themselves on forming a socialist laboring class that would create the new state they envisioned.  They had very little in common with the British Christian ruling elite, which hailed from aristocratic families.

Despite De Haan’s radical ideas in the Yishuv context, he was an avowed Orientalist.  He viewed Arabs as the Exotic Other, the tantalizing and desired.  In his poetry, he waxed rhapsodic about these people of the mysterious east.  It was a poetic version of Gaugin’s paintings of voluptuous Tahitian maidens, and a common European motif. It was also reminiscent of the medieval Spanish Hebrew poetry of Yehuda HaLevi: “My heart is in the east, but I am at the far reaches of the west.”

But unlike the typical Orientalist of the period, De Haan did not so much seek to foist western values on the east.  Rather, he sought to elevate the east to an equal, and integrate it with the civilization of the west.  His vision was not unlike that of Lawrence of Arabia in seeking to create a united Arab nation out of the disparate tribes of the region. But in at least one sense, DeHaan’s vision was even more radical: he sought to unite two separate religious and ethnic groups into one united political entity that would advance the interests of both.

De Haan, unlike the Zionists, he did not wish to conquer or expel the Palestinians.  He sought to unite with them, or at least respectfully co-exist with them.

One of the major goals of the Agudah was to roll back the Balfour Declaration which, in 1917, had declared the goal of the British Empire to establish a “national home” for the Jewish people. De Haan’s vision was altogether different: he saw the Jews of Palestine living together with their Palestinian neighbors in relative harmony.  Even if the British eventually ended the Mandate, the Haredi leader believed that he could negotiate a similarly stable, productive relationship with King Abdullah of Transjordan.


Yitzhak Ben Tzvi, architect of De Haan’s murder, at Tel Hai shrine (1934)

Given that the Yishuv leadership’s ultimate goal was to drive the British out of the region and establish a nation-state for the Jewish people, De Haan was a powerful, effective and dangerous opponent.  The conflict came to a head when he announced that he planned a voyage to Britain, where he expected to conduct high-level diplomacy with leading officials responsible for Mandatory affairs.  The possibility that he could unravel years of progress made by the Zionist movement toward its goal of national sovereignty was too serious to ignore.

Who Gave the Order?

A recent Haaretz article recounts the discovery of the previously-unknown journal of the then-chief of the Zionist militia, the Haganah, Yosef Hecht.  It was he who gave the order to murder De Haan.  Though Hecht does not clarify whether he received explicit approval from the leader of the Yishuv, Yitzhak Ben Tzvi (later to become the country’s second president), the assassin whom Hecht charged with the mission, did claim in a 1985 interview that Ben Tzvi directly approved it: :

“I have done what the Haganah decided had to be done. And nothing was done without the order of Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. I have no regrets because he [de Haan] wanted to destroy our whole idea of Zionism.”


Avraham Tehomi, assassin of De Haan, later first commander of Jewish terror organization, Etzel

The murderers did try beforehand to warn De Haan that he was a marked man.  They urged him to leave the country.  But he was not one to be deterred.  In fact, he saw himself as a visionary, a pioneer, and possibly even a martyr.  He was almost philosophical about his own death.  He certainly would not let his enemies change his course.

Thus, on the evening of June 30, 1924, the day before he was to set sail for England, De Haan left the synagogue of Shaarey Tzedek Hospital after evening prayers.  He was accosted by Avraham Tehomi, who drew out a pistol and shot him three times.  He died soon after.

Though there was outrage both in the Haredi community and the world outside Palestine at his murder, no one was ever arrested.  The Yishuv, in order to deflect blame from itself, spread the calumnious rumor that one of De Haan’s Arab lovers had murdered him in a fit of jealous rage. As a deflection, it had a bit of genius to it, as it served to reinforce the Arabophobia of the Jewish population: this is what happens when a Jew betrays his tribe and consorts with Arabs.  This is his reward for his sympathy for them.

Tom Segev, whose majesterial biography of Ben Gurion, A State at Any Cost, was published last year, wrote this account of the assassination for Haaretz in 2010

…Zman Yerushalayim, came out with a five-page article, centering around an interview with a 74-year-old man named Yosef Meshi, who proudly claims: “My father was the murderer.”

The father, Ze’ev Meshi, was a member of a fanatic Zionist underground group called Hamifal. According to Yosef, his father told him that de Haan’s activity was a threat to the Zionist enterprise, and therefore the group decided to murder him. They sat in the granary on Moshav Nahalal and drew straws to decide who would carry out the act. The responsibility fell to Ze’ev Meshi and a man named Avraham Tehomi

.…According to Meshi: His father stood guard in the alley and made sure nobody approached, and Tehomi fired.…

Based also on testimony found in the Haganah archive…de Haan was murdered by order of that organization [the Haganah], and the decision to kill him was taken according to a formal, organized process. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who would later become Israel’s second president, was among the planners of the murder, as may have been the country’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.

In the Ben Gurion biography, he adds more details about the Zionist leader’s views on the murder:

The Zionist establishment condemned him as an anti-Semitic rogue; nearly everyone agreed he was insane. Ben Gurion accused him of “betrayal and deception, talebearing and slander.”

…Ben Gurion went to watch the funeral. He estimated there were…about 200 people in attendance.

“I did not see among the mourners any profound anger. Apparently, most of the Jews accepted it without getting much exercised about it.”

The question of whather Ben Gurion had been involved in the murder would soon arise; in other words, the question Ben Zvi would have taken upon himself to approve such a deed without informing Ben Gurion. Perhaps he would have…There is no reason to belive that Ben Gurion saw any need to liquidate De Haan.

De Haan’s death left Ben Gurion unmoved, but he likely saw the assassination as just one more in the series of subversive acts carried out [by the Haganah] without the authority of the Histadrut [Ben Gurion’s fiefdom], and that was intolerable.

Tehomi, the assassin, was later expelled from the Haganah and became the first commander of the Jewish terror organization, Etzel.  Hecht, who authorized the assassination, was eventually deposed as Haganah chief and disappeared into the back pages of Zionist history.  Ben Gurion found the murder of fellow Jews distasteful.  It’s not clear whether he held this view for purely pragmatic reasons because it made the Zionist movement look bad; or because the murder of fellow Jews made the Zionist movement look like it lacked discipline and self-control.  He clearly had no moral compunctions about the murder.  At any rate, after Hecht later conducted a drumhead court-martial in 1930 Ben Gurion sacked him:

The trial was held…before a panel of three commanders, none of whom had a legal background, and in the absence of the accused himself…He was charged with providing information about the Haganah to a senior officer in the Mandatory police…and was ordered to kill himself.

After the trial, two of the judges broke into the condemned man’s home…bombarded him with accusations, forced him to sign a confession of treason and, on their way out, left him with a loaded pistol with which he carried out the sentence.

Hecht’s role in the formation of the precursor of the national army receded and he was largely forgotten until his notebooks were discovered and reported in Haaretz.

Assassination as a Tool of Political Domination

Sonnenfeld and the Haredi religious movement never mounted a similar challenge to the Zionists after De Haan’s murder. They were cowed and accepted dominance of the secular Zionists in political affairs. Henceforth, ultra-Orthodoxy retreated from the political area (at least as a potential rival to Zionism) and largely reverted to a purely religious movement.  In this sense, the assassination succeeded in suppressing a movement that threatened Zionist hegemony.

Assassinations serve many purposes for those who commit them: some are acts of desperation and protest like the murders of Nazi diplomat, Ernst Von Rath by Herschel Grynszpan (which led to Kristallnacht); or the assassination of Rudolf Heydrich by the Czech resistance. Others like the assassination of Lord LeMoyne by Lehi seek to lay down a marker warning the colonial enemy that terror will lead to their eventual defeat. But the assassination of De Haan was an expression of dominance by the Zionist leadership–that it would brook no competition or threat to its power and control of the Yishuv’s political future.

De Haan as Victim of Zionist Homophobia

There was a second, less obvious element in the murder plot. Though De Haan was viewed primarily as a political enemy of the Yishuv, he was also despised as a sexual deviant by Zionist Jews. He was known to groom young Palestinian boys and had such a male servant with whom he was suspected of conducting a homosexual relationship.

Though today, Brand Israel uses pink-washing to paint Israel as a paradise for the global LGBT community, De Haan’s murder has explicit homophobic elements.  The official historian of the Haganah, Prof. Yehuda Slutsky, wrote this of the murder victim

:…He of the dangerous pathological background, tainted with homosexuality and with the lust of his perverse acts of love with the Arab shabab [youth].”

It is no accident that the first Zionist political assassination of a fellow Jew incorporated raging homophobia as well.  It’s important to note that such hate continues to simmer in Israeli society to this day with the Bar Noar (unsolved) and Jerusalem Pride murder.

Zionism and its adherents can readily understand hatred against the Palestinian Arab enemy.  Such violence is almost inbred in the struggle between these two peoples. But it much more troubling to accept that inherent in Zionism is a murderous urge to eliminate Jewish dissidents as well.  That’s certainly why this particular tragedy has receded to the periphery of Zionist consciousness.

But it is important to understand that Zionism was not a visionary, altruistic enterprise solely seeking the good and happiness of the Jewish people. It was a ruthless movement which viewed itself as part of an existential struggle to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people in the face of centuries of Jew-hatred.

Nor were such assassinations a one-off phenomenon.  Seventy years later, in 1995, another murderer fueled by Judean settler rage and blessed by their rabbis assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.  His “crime” was to sign the Oslo Accords and threaten the demise of the Greater Land of Israel, and the messianic vision of Gush Emunim to resettle the entire Biblical Land of Israel and thus hasten the coming of the Messiah.

As was true of De Haan, the settlers who plotted the murder knew they could not defeat Rabin at the ballot box.  Their only recourse was through a gun barrel. Yigal Amir’s murder did precisely that. Though Rabin’s successor, Simon Peres, promised to continue the martyr’s legacy, he squandered whatever political capital the killing offered. The Labor Party lost power and Bibi Netanyahu assumed the leadership during his first term as prime minister.  Oslo was dead and interred in its grave. The Labor Party went into a gradual decline that has continued, to the point where today it stands on the brink of oblivion.

So the Rabin assassination, similar to that of Jacob De Haan ensured the dominance of Likudist ultra-nationalism and rejectionism as the path for the Israeli state for decades to come.

See also

This Day in Jewish History / Zionism’s First Political Assassination
The first political murder in Jewish Palestine: Lessons of intolerance

Jacob de Haan, Israel’s Forgotten Gay Haredi Political Poet

Assassinated for his opposition to Zionism, de Haan’s life was a succession of scandals, from sex with young Arabs to radical diplomacy

Liel Leibovitz

October 01, 2014

It was late afternoon on Friday, June 30, 1924, and the shopkeepers along Jaffa Road were rolling down the thin screens of corrugated metal and shutting down for Shabbat, shouting greetings at each other and slamming doors. The din didn’t seem to bother Jacob de Haan: Walking out of the makeshift synagogue in the back yard of the Sha’are Tzedek hospital, he stopped in front of the building’s imposing façade, lost in thought.

He had much on mind: The new book he had just published was scandalous, its 900 short poems much more candid than de Haan had ever been in print about his love for young Arab boys. And there was the upcoming trip to London, to convince the government there that not all of the Jews in Palestine were hell-bent on independence; the Zionists, incensed, had threatened de Haan more than once, but he didn’t care. His convictions, like his poems, were deeply felt. He started marching down the street.

A tall man, all dressed in white, approached him and asked him for the time. De Haan reached into his pocket and tugged on a thin gold chain, removing an ornate watch and straining to read its hands. The tall man reached for his own pocket and pulled out a long revolver. Just as de Haan looked back up at the tall man’s translucent blue eyes and his shock of black hair, three shots rang out, clearly audible even amid the noise. The tall man ran into a nearby backyard, his loose white shirt flapping in the breeze like a ghost. De Haan fell on the sidewalk, grasping his chest, bleeding. A few minutes later, he was dead.

Growing up, I often heard the story of de Haan’s assassination: He was the confidante and the right-hand man of my grandmother’s grandfather, the great Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the leader of the anti-Zionist haredi community in pre-state Jerusalem. I’ve been to the spot where he was struck—the building now houses the state-run broadcasting authority—and tried to imagine him lying there, his magnificent and unending forehead against the cool pavement, looking up at the trees and the limestone walls, his vitality flickering, his breast wet and warm with blood.

But while I knew much about how Jacob de Haan died, I knew very little about how he had lived. When I finally bothered asking—reading old newspaper accounts and transcripts of interviews, sifting through my ancestor’s multi-volume biography, and perusing the surprising number of online tributes to a largely forgotten man now dead for ninety years—I understood why: a former communist, a contrarian, an Orthodox Jew, a secular intellectual, a terrific writer, a one-time ardent Zionist, a homosexual, a fan of the local Arab community—whatever fault lines divided Israel in the early years of its struggle to be born, de Haan seemed to embody them all. Somehow, it seems just right that he would be the victim of the Jewish community’s first-ever political assassination: To both the men who killed him and to those who supported him in life, some of whom were my relatives, de Haan was more convenient as a martyr than as a living friend or adversary. But in the snippets of his diary accounts that survived in archives, in his poems, and in the printed recollections of those who knew and cherished him, de Haan remains every bit as vibrant, as vital, and as impossible as he’d been in life.

Jacob de Haan was born in 1881 in a small Dutch town named Smilde. His mother came from a well-to-do family, but suffered from depression, delusions, and a host of other mental afflictions. His father was a foul-tempered cantor, butcher, and teacher who moved his family to Zaandam in the north when Jacob was young. As a boy, Jacob was sent to a heder and raised religious, but when he reached his teenage years he enrolled in a teachers’ college in Haarlem and cultivated his adolescent rebellion with a ferocity matched by few. He denounced his faith, moved to Amsterdam, joined the Social Democratic Party, and married Johanna van Maarseveen, a non-Jewish physician a decade his senior. Even more important, he fell in with a pride of bohemian psychiatrists who, as their colleague Freud was writing his ideas in Vienna, went much further in their assertions on the nature of the human psyche.

Frederik van Eeden, for example, his eyes intense and his mustache trapezoid, infused his writings with concepts he borrowed from the Hindus, believing we are all in possession of a manifestation of a universal soul, collective and eternal and glorious. Moved also by Thoreau, he established a commune called Walden, and lived there in squalor, helping for free anyone who sought him and writing convincingly about “lucid dreams,” a term he had coined. Another friend, Arnold Aletrino, found another path to controversy, becoming among the first physicians of the period to assert that homosexuality was not deviant but a wholly normal condition. Both van Eeden and Aletrino wrote irreverent novels and poetry, both of them preferring the bleak and the realistic over the prettily artificial: van Eeden’s famous work was The Deeps of Deliverance, a description of a woman succumbing in body and mind to the terrors of morphine addiction.

This frank discussion of vice made de Haan giddy. He had long noticed in himself what he considered abnormal tendencies. Working as a tutor, for example, he admitted that whenever he meted out punishment, he took a touch of pleasure from watching his young charges cry. He was soon writing as well, and was quickly acknowledged as a capable enough poet to merit a job writing for the Social Democrats’ newspaper. He published scores of poems, mainly for kids, about inspirational topics like the railway workers’ strike. But it wasn’t enough; de Haan needed to get personal.

Entitled Pijpelijntjes, or Pipelines, de Haan’s first book, published in 1904, was a sweet love story. “Give me a kiss,” says one of its protagonists in a typical passage, to which the other replies, “No and no. If you want it, you’ll come and take it.” The first protagonist smiles, saying, “We’re not doing anything bad; it’s just that I love you.” The protagonists, Joop and Sam, were both men, making the book Holland’s first published tale of homosexual love. If that wasn’t scandalous enough, Joop was a popular nickname for Jacob, and the book was dedicated to Aletrino, champion of same-sex desire. Soon, a rumor was spread that Pijpelijntjes was the autobiographical account of de Haan and Aletrino’s love.

Distraught, Aletrino alerted de Haan’s wife, and together they bought most of the book’s existing copies. When its publisher insisted on a second edition, Aletrino had the dedication removed and the characters’ names changed. But the damage was already done: Even in tolerant Amsterdam, the author of an explicitly gay novel could not hold any prominent position, and de Haan was fired.

He spent the next decade erring in the wilderness, sometimes mentally and sometimes literally. An impassioned crusader by disposition, he travelled to Russia and wrote a fiery book about the abysmal condition of its prisons. He went back to school, and received his law degree shortly after his 28th birthday. He dabbled as an attorney, and wrote two other books, Pathologies and Nervous Stories, both dense with homosexual affairs, sadomasochism, and other titillating stuff. His soul, however, was never at rest; it was missing, he felt, some great calling.

The Bitter Edge agreed. A biblical demon who first appeared to de Haan when the poet turned 30, The Bitter Edge would, de Haan wrote in his journal, “torture me, confuse my soul and my senses.” Above all, the demon wanted de Haan to find his way back into the fold, inundating the young man with messages of piety and teshuva, or repentance. One evening in May of 1913, strolling through an Amsterdam park at dusk, de Haan heard a childlike voice that he had never heard before. He stopped strolling and listened. “Return, oh Israel, to the Lord your God!” the voice said. “Return to me for I have redeemed you!”

It was all the convincing de Haan, already profoundly moved by his visions, needed. Before too long, and with the same fullness of spirit common to all of his pursuits, he once again became a religious Jew. In 1915, he published his new collection of poems; it was entitled The Jewish Song and contained none of the psychosexual provocations of his earlier work.

Thrilled with a talented writer so outwardly passionate about his faith, the Jewish community in Amsterdam embraced de Haan as a luminary. He was thrilled, but quickly realized that being married to a non-Jewish woman was a liability for his new round of reinvention. He asked Johanna to convert, but she refused; a proud agnostic, she saw all religions as fraudulent, and refused to affiliate herself with any. De Haan was furious. Frequently, he would humiliate Johanna, often in public. She forgave him every time.

Merely being a famed Jewish poet, even in a community as large and as vibrant as Amsterdam’s, was not quite enough for de Haan’s metaphysical appetites. He wanted more. He craved the tremors of a colossal drama, and was fortunate enough to find it with the Balfour Declaration, the 1917 letter from Great Britain’s Foreign Secretary to the Baron Rothschild confirming the British government’s commitment to establishing “a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine”: if a Jewish homeland was rising from the ashes of history, then de Haan needed to be there and play a part. In 1919, he wrote a letter to Chaim Weizmann, the declaration’s key facilitator, and announced that he was ready to join the struggle. He was, he wrote, “anxious to work at rebuilding Land, People and Language.” Lest Weizmann think that his correspondent was just another provincial laggard, de Haan took pains to describe his situation as plainly—and as grandiosely—as he could: “I am not leaving Holland to improve my condition,” he wrote. “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.”

Cloaked in the thin veil of self-sacrifice, then, de Haan prepared for his departure. Johanna, it was clear, would stay behind, and her husband would make a living by writing the occasional dispatch for the Dutch papers, an assignment for which he was handsomely paid. He didn’t care much, however: as soon as he got to Jerusalem, he was sure, all he had to do was present himself to the leadership there and he would immediately become the fledgling community’s mightiest literary lion. On the day of his departure, thousands of fans crowded Amsterdam’s train station, waving frantically and singing “Hatikvah.” At least one chronicler of the occasion joked that many present just wanted to make sure that he’d really gone.*

De Haan arrived in Jerusalem in February 1919, on a bitterly cold day. He had sent a telegram to several senior Zionist leaders, and expected a delegation of dignitaries to greet him at the station. None appeared. Under heavy rain, he found his way to the Hotel Amdursky.

Situated right across from the Tower of David, the Amdursky has long attracted a certain brand of mystic seeking revelations in the Old City. Staying there in 1857, Herman Melville described it as a “chamber low and scored by time, / Masonry old, late washed with lime / Much like a tomb new-cut in stone.” De Haan took his place in this tomb and waited for the rain to subside and for the Zionists to come calling. Neither happened, and a few days later, feeling wronged, de Haan presented himself at the Jewish Agency’s headquarters.

I, the poet of The Jewish Song, place myself and my great capacity at your service, to build the homeland,” he told the junior clerk who finally showed up and agreed to meet him. The clerk sneered. “We’ll take care of the building,” he told de Haan. “You just make sure there’s cash in our drawers.”

Offended and disheartened, de Haan nonetheless resolved to remain in Jerusalem and work his way into the Zionist movement’s inner circles. The Zionists, however, were impervious to his charms: bespectacled, quick-witted, and excitable, with a receding hairline and a jumpy manner that reminded more than one observer of a frog, de Haan was far from the New Jew the men who populated the upper echelons of the Yishuv’s leadership had in mind. Two years after the Balfour Declaration, the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine, needed farmers and soldiers, not self-aggrandizing poets who cracked jokes and spoke in foreign tongues.

While the Zionists rejected him, however, the British officers entrusted with the Mandate found him charming. He was playful, and had a manner of winning over, by sheer persistence, even those who did not like him. De Haan, one acquaintance sighed, just grew on you; as outrageous as he could be, he was impossible not to like. Not that the British probably needed much incentive to feel amicable: in a Jewish community thick with men and women busy being reborn as tanned and terse redeemers of the land, De Haan was, to the British, a more familiar creature, brainy and wordy and well-mannered. Soon, he was invited to all of Jerusalem’s parties. And no party was more socially essential than the annual Hannukah reception of Annie Edith Landau.

Miss Landau—no one ever seemed to call her anything else—was the closest thing the small and sun-bitten town had to a grand dame. She ran the legendary Evelina de Rothschild school for girls, which she transformed from a finishing school to a first-rate academic institution by reforming the curriculum, which had included only religion, sewing, and arts and crafts when she arrived, to which she added math, history, geography, and science. Eventually appointed an M.B.E. by King George V, she also ran her own salon, which drew representatives of all of Palestine’s warring circles. She was just as respected by the Orthodox Jews, whose faith she shared, as she was by the British administrators, her fellow aristocrats, and the Arabs, who saw in her a figure of dedication and grace. All three groups were heavily represented at Miss Landau’s annual Hannukah shindig, and De Haan managed to shock them all with a few cutting sentences.

Two people can’t sit on the same chair,” he was said to have bellowed to no one in particular. “This land was given to us, and you”—he was now addressing a notable sheikh—“should take your wives and your children, load up your camels, and go away. The Arab lands are large, but here there’s no more room for you.”

So, at least, went the rumor that began circulating while the custodians were still piling up the dirty glasses and stacking up the chairs. Soon, it reached all corners of Palestine, making de Haan the small country’s enfant terrible. Which sounded strange to the man himself: De Haan had no recollection of ever speaking such lines, and didn’t precisely share the sentiments know so vociferously attributed to him. He set out to defend his good name, but discovered quickly that his version had few takers. The British authorities, pressured to show evenhandedness toward Palestine’s Jews and Arabs alike, launched an official inquiry.

De Haan, flustered, appealed to the Zionists to support him in his denial; not wishing to be aligned with the voluble and mercurial Dutchman, the Yishuv’s leadership refused, distancing itself from de Haan. It was a blow from which he would never recover. “Here,” he wrote in a dispatch at the time, “everything is wilderness and emptiness. Control lies in the hands of professional and materialist Zionists.”

Unable to forgo the strong romantic currents that had brought him to Jerusalem, however, he sought another object of infatuation, and found the city’s Arabs. The old pattern resurfaced: the Arab cause was now his obsession. Ever the polyglot, he quickly studied Arabic, and took great pleasure in upsetting the Zionists he’d meet by demanding that they speak to him in Arabic, an official language according to the British bylaws. He developed a similar passion for Arab politics, and sharply distanced himself from the Zionist cause.

The deepest expression of his newfound passions, however, was carnal. Arab men—very young men in particular—became his obsession. He wrote poems about men like Mahmoud the stable boy, being explicit about his lust. As always, he saw his stirrings in metaphysical terms. In one poem, entitled “Doubt,” he wrote: “The year sneaks in in God’s capital city / Near the Western Wall / Tonight, what is it that I long for? / The sanctity of Israel, or an Arab male prostitute?”

Taking residence with a well-heeled Jerusalem family, de Haan demanded that the family’s Jewish maid be barred from his quarters—she stole from him, he argued angrily—and hired instead a handsome young Arab man as his valet. Each afternoon, de Haan and his friend would lock themselves in the room. No one in Jerusalem had much doubt as to what the two were doing behind closed doors.“

Last week, I had a sort of adventure,” the future Nobel laureate S.Y. Agnon wrote to his wife.

I was looking for an apartment, and was handed from one Arab to another until I made the acquaintance of one Arab who spoke fluent Ashkenazi… When I told Mr. Greenhaut the man’s name etc., I was informed that the man was the good friend of de Haan, curse him, meaning his wife, darned devil.”

De Haan didn’t care much; he was no stranger to the wagging tongues of detractors. But, as always, he sought to align himself with a higher cause, and when Zionism failed him, he turned again to religion. O, more accurately, he turned to Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, my great-great grandfather and the leader of Jerusalem’s haredi community.*

Brilliant, ascetic, temperamental, and immensely charismatic, Sonnenfeld was as well-versed in the intricacies of world affairs as he was in the mysteries of the Talmud. When, for example, Tomas Masaryk, Czechoslovakia’s philosopher president, visited Jerusalem late in his career, he made a point of consulting with the hunched-over, robed sage.

Like de Haan, Sonnenfeld was a man of intricate extremes. He’d emigrated to Jerusalem from Slovakia, and was so moved by seeing Eretz HaKodesh, the sacred land, that he climbed on board the ship’s mast, vying for a better view. Once in Palestine, however, he became a fierce opponent of Zionism, which he saw as utmost heresy, believing, like most religious Jews, that it was strictly forbidden to try and “hasten the end” and that a Jewish homeland was only possible once the messiah arrived. It was a subtle contradiction: Sonnenfeld opposed Zionism with all his might, but would only do so once firmly ensconced in Zion.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook had different ideas. Sonnenfeld’s close friend and main rival, Kook believed that Zionism’s stirrings may very well be the beginning of redemption, and that the muscular and secular pioneers in the kibbutzim were the unconscious heralds of salvation. In 1913, the two rabbis, accompanied by a few of their colleagues, rode mules to Palestine’s north to meet the young Zionists in person. Elated, Kook joined the tanned youth in dance; Sonnenfeld, distraught, wept. Upon their return to Jerusalem, Kook wrote enthusiastically in support of the Zionist ethos, even celebrating calisthenics as a mystical exercise that not only makes the body stronger but prepares the soul, too, for the holy task of building the Holy Land. Sonnenfeld, furious, published an essay accusing Kook of “praising the wicked.”

The two rabbis maintained a mutual admiration, but the stage was set for a fissure. Kook, naturally, was embraced by the emerging Zionist leadership, if not always unproblematically, and appointed Jerusalem’s chief rabbi. Sonnenfeld, sensing that his war was being lost, sought an ally with a gift for politics. De Haan was a natural fit.

When he first met Sonnenfeld, in May of 1919, de Haan wrote in his journal that the rabbi stood in stark contrast to the petty Zionist leaders who ruled the roost in Jerusalem, and that Sonnenfeld was as holy and devoted as the secular bureaucrats were narrow-minded and uninspiring. But even such deep admiration was not enough for de Haan; before too long, he was writing poems about his new shepherd, Sonnenfeld. “Above all, the Torah is his treasure,” went one of them.

“From morning until evening, he desires nothing else.
Even though he is impoverished, his life is happy and secure
More than the lives of all those who revel and rejoice.”

Sonnenfeld was quick to make it clear that the admiration was mutual, admitting the Dutchman into his inner circle and appointing him his right-hand man. The confidence moved de Haan greatly: Here, for the first time in his life, was a man in a position of authority who recognized his genius and sought to reward him for it, with no caveats or reservations. In March 1920, de Haan was elected to the 70-member City Council for the Ashkenazi Community, the haredi community’s governing body, with the expectation that he would lead it into battle against the Zionists.

After a botched attempt at a coalition with the religious Zionists against the secularists, de Haan finally had a strategy in mind. The British, he knew, categorized the people under their rule according to their religious affiliation; as far as the Mandatory government was concerned, all of Palestine’s Jews belonged to the same ethnic and religious group, which, for convenience’s sake, was represented by the Zionist leadership, the best-organized Jewish group around. For His Majesty’s administrators, then, Jews were synonymous with Zionists. It was that assertion that de Haan sought to challenge.

Like a man possessed, he set out to convince the Brahmins in London that there was another Jewish community in Palestine, one that abhorred the idea of independence, one that was ready to make common cause with the Arabs, one that welcomed the crown’s continued sovereignty. He wrote long and eloquent letters to Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, as well as to the Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour himself.

All that, however, transpired in private, and politics, de Haan knew, was one part procedure and three parts spectacle. He needed his big coup de theatre, and he got it with the visit of Alfred Harmsworth, the First Viscount Northcliffe, in February 1922. Publisher of The TimesThe Daily Mail, and other newspapers, Lord Northcliffe was among the most influential shapers of the United Kingdom’s public opinion. So great was his renown that, during the Great War, the German Navy, exasperated by his tireless anti-German propaganda, sent a warship to shell his country home in Kent, killing his gardener’s wife. Northcliffe, it was known, was a man of great passions, fond of fast boats and car racing and women—he fathered his first child when he was seventeen, the mother being a sixteen-year-old maidservant in his family’s employ. A man like that needed to be engaged not with politics but with poetry.

The poet, de Haan, had the perfect plot in mind. He purchased a round-trip ticket on the train to Alexandria, the one he knew would carry Lord Northcliffe from Egypt to Jerusalem. Dressed in his finest, he boarded the train and paced around until he spotted his target. Then, as if by serendipity, he befriended the influential aristocrat, reciting some of his verse and, more important, regaling his new friend with tales of how terrible and cruel those dastardly Zionists really were.

When the train pulled into the station in Jerusalem, a committee consisting of the Zionist leadership’s brightest lights was there to welcome him. Banners were prepared, and the mood was festive. Then, however, the train’s doors opened and down walked Northcliffe, arm-in-arm with de Haan, shooting the Zionists a disdainful glance and walking right past their receiving line. It was a major blow.

Immediately, and with rarely paralleled vitriol, conspiracy theories started swirling. De Haan, went a popular one, had managed to convince his new friend Northcliffe to press Balfour into retracting his famous declaration in support of a Jewish homeland. “Traitors and provocateurs in the guise of Orthodox Jews,” wrote one Zionist newspaper, “are severing their nation with their tongues, teaming up with the Arab delegation in an effort to extinguish Israel’s last hope.” Other publications were not so subtle: a popular weekly magazine ran a poem about de Haan that left little room for interpretation. “The man is insane,” it ran, “and his villainy without end / And no one throws stones at him / And no one bashes him with a bat.” These last lines were not so much a statement of fact as a lament: to most Zionists, de Haan was despicable enough to merit a swift and violent end.

This burning hatred delighted its recipient. The same bureaucrats who failed to genuflect when he’d first arrived and offered his services were now in awe of his powers. He took pleasure in being Jerusalem’s most hated man. One day, showing a Dutch visitor around, de Haan encountered a group of people who, at the very sight of him, spat on the ground in contempt. De Haan’s visitor was stunned by the crude gesture. “They’re not doing this out of respect for you,” he noted. “No,” de Haan said gleefully, “they’re spitting on the floor out of respect for you! If I was by myself, they would have spat in my face.”

While some spat, however, others took more extreme measures. “I hereby inform you that unless you leave our country by the 24th of this month, you will be shot like a rabid dog,” read a note de Haan received in May of 1923. It was signed “The Black Hand.”

De Haan filed a complaint with the police, but he greeted the death threat with his signature gusto. Whenever making appointments now, he’d smile and add, “that is, if I’m not murdered beforehand.” On the May 25, the day after the ultimatum had expired, he wrote in his journal: “how innocent is the 25th when one is not assassinated on the 24th.” But with every day that went by, de Haan grew more convinced that the threats against him were idle, and that the Zionists hadn’t the guts to gun him down. It was time for his next act.*

Early in 1924, King Hussein visited his son, Abdallah, in Amman, Jordan, eager to form a united Arab federation that would include all of Palestine. Recognizing Hussein as a powerful regional actor, the Zionist leadership dispatched a delegation to Amman to meet with the king and impress him with the necessity of Jewish sovereignty. De Haan put together a delegation of his own; to the Zionists’ great chagrin, Hussein received it with great fanfare. De Haan’s message, the Zionists knew, was one that the king was likely to endorse: the real Jews, went de Haan’s main talking point, had no patience for all that talk of independence, and would be His Majesty’s most loyal subject should he establish his kingdom and oversee the Promised Land. The Zionists tried to convince de Haan—desperately, angrily—not to meet with the king, but de Haan refused. He left his meeting with Hussein with a royal promise to take the haredi point of view into account, as well as with a sizeable financial contribution to a number of haredi institutions in Jerusalem. Even worse, de Haan returned to Amman a few months later, and convinced Hussein to sign a statement denouncing “the anti-religious Zionist movement as unjust towards Muslims, Christians, and Orthodox Jews.”

And now he was about to travel to London, the Zionists knew, to meet with God-knows-who and ask for God-knows-what. Reading reports about de Haan in the papers, Avraham Tehomi, a senior member of the Hagannah, the pre-state underground army, was livid. “I saw that we, too, had traitors,” he said in a later interview. “And not Communists, who, by their very nature, are traitors to their country, but a Jew organizing a crusade against Zionism.”

Tehomi was born in Odessa and emigrated to Palestine as a young man. Legend had it that upon his arrival, he walked from the port Haifa to Jerusalem, and then set up a tent in the holy city and lived in it for months. Even if not true, the story was believable: Tehomi was a tough Jew with a penchant for action, whose shock of black hair and burning blue eyes made just as much of an impression as his decisive demeanor. Soon, he found his way to the top ranks of the Hagannah, and, later in life, to the Irgun, the Revisionist movement’s military group.

As a senior Hagannah officer in Jerusalem, Tehomi began circulating the idea that de Haan should be shot. Among those he consulted were Yitzhak Ben Tzvi, the Zionist leader who’d eventually become the State of Israel’s second president. And while the precise details of just who had ordered the assassination are still, even after all these decades, unclear, there’s little doubt that many in the senior Zionist leadership in Jerusalem knew about the proposal to kill de Haan—and that none objected. And there is no doubt that Tehomi was put in charge of the operation.

In later interviews, Tehomi recalled that reading about de Haan’s travels to Amman, he was so livid that for days he could think of nothing else. But once he was entrusted with the operation against the Dutchman, he grew calm and focused. Meticulous in his work, Tehomi began following de Haan, studying his daily routine and mapping his usual routes. Before too long, he was ready. But the assassination of a fellow Jew was a tall and terrible order, and Tehomi felt he needed to allow de Haan one more chance to repent. He followed him to the Sha’are Tzedek hospital one afternoon, and sneaked into the pew directly behind de Haan’s.

There’s a lot of bitterness towards you in the public,” he whispered mid-prayer.

“We don’t understand what you’re trying to do. We came here from Russia after pogroms that killed many Jews. We came here to save our souls, and here comes a Jew like you and destroys our last place of refuge. What are you doing to us?”

Stop doing what you’re doing, Tehomi concluded his hushed message, “or it won’t end well.” De Haan, however, was in no mood for a conversation. “Epikores!” he yelled at Tehomi, a word that connotes a Jew who’d abandoned his faith. Tehomi got up and, with de Haan still shouting, quickly left the synagogue.

The encounter left de Haan shaken. In typical fashion, he saw his poetry, his politics, and his persona as one indistinguishable drama. One of his friends recalled seeing him lost in thought; suddenly, de Haan looked up, speaking of himself in the third person, and said dreamily, “In a few days you will hear that Dr. de Haan was murdered.” He injected the same anxiety into his art. A new poem, called “Betrayal,” took the bullet as its central metaphor: “As a tender chick flies / So flies my poem / Until the gun / Shoots my heart.”

Sonnenfeld and other colleagues begged him to take precautions, but de Haan refused. He was sick, he told them, of living in fear. “I’m afraid of the past, because I can’t forget it,” he wrote shortly before his death. “I’m afraid of the future, because I can’t prevent it. And this is how I live in the present, like a tightrope walker. It must end in disaster.”

It did. On June 30, 1924, as he was walking out of the synagogue late on a Friday afternoon, a man in white walked up to him, asked him for the time, and shot him three times at close range. That man, most likely, was Tehomi. Asked repeatedly throughout his life if he was the shooter, Tehomi neither confirmed nor denied. Even before de Haan’s body was interred, however, the identity of the shooter became the subject of wild speculation. Who one believed had shot de Haan said everything about one’s politics: was it one of his Arab lovers? Was it a fellow haredi, outraged after having discovered de Haan’s homosexuality? Was it the Zionists?

Paranoia ran deep: senior Zionist leaders, including David Ben Gurion, blamed each other for the bloodshed, escalating their rhetoric, threatening more violence. The haredi community, too, was gearing for a fight. Hundreds attended de Haan’s funeral. “This murder,” Rabbi Sonnenfeld thundered at de Haan’s graveside,

“was committed by the descendants of Jacob who acted with Esau’s sword and Esau’s craft in order to silence Jacob and Israel … Look at the abyss into which the heads of the Zionist leadership had tumbled and shout out loudly that you wish to be no part of this evil congregation.”

After the funeral concluded, the throngs headed to the city’s center to confront the Zionists. The police just barely curbed the violence.*

The storm, however, died down within a matter of weeks. Maybe it was the shock and the shame inevitable in a small, close community having suffering its first political assassination. Maybe it was the Fourth Aliya—the largest wave of migration the small Jewish community in Palestine had known—thickening the ranks of the Yishuv by more than 80,000 people and making the community larger, more diverse, and less apt to care about the arabesques of political infighting. And maybe it was de Haan’s new book, published very shortly after his death and rich with poems about his affairs with young Arab men, candid revelations that made him, in the eyes of many of his pious friends, a less-than-ideal martyr. Whatever the reason, the memory of de Haan soon faded away, his assassination a curiosity and the circumstances of his life largely forgotten.

Perhaps it’s only right. In a century of passionate and purist ideologies, de Haan straddled too many fault lines, embodied too many possibilities and potentials, and refused—even in his most fervent phases—to ossify into something dead and hard. He was alive in a way that the affairs of men could never really contain. And he knew it. In his final collection of poems, one poem accurately charts the course of de Haan’s life and afterlife: “I have fled God in the paths of lust / To where? To God, only to Him. / I wish to return to my Godless life / And God, and only he, will secure my return.”

 

 

 

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