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The first political murder in Jewish Palestine: Lessons of intolerance

The story of Jacob Israël de Haan, a Dutch author who was killed by Jews in Mandate Palestine for his anti-Zionist views, could teach Israelis an important lesson about tolerance, one that is not lost on those who remember him in Amsterdam.

By Ido Liven

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 monument to Jacob Israel de Haan in Amsterdam. (Photo: Lukas Koster/CC)

The monument to Jacob Israel de Haan in Amsterdam. (Photo: Lukas Koster/CC)

I used to go past it almost daily when I was living in the city but it was a story I wrote about a neighborhood in a different part of Amsterdam that introduced me to de Haan.

I couldn’t help trying to situate this truly outstanding character from the early 20th century in today’s Israel. Things have changed dramatically in the nine decades since his death, but de Haan’s story offers a vivid illustration of how far modern day Israeli society still is from the inclusive character it so desperately needs.

Jacob Israel de Haan

Jacob Israel de Haan

Here’s a brief overview: De Haan was born to a Jewish family in the north of the Netherlands and worked as a journalist in Amsterdam. As an author he is probably best known for his book, Lines from De Pijp (“Pijpelijntjes”), which takes place in an Amsterdam neighborhood of the same name. Considered the first Dutch homo-erotic novel, the book managed to stir quite a controversy at the time, leading some to believe the protagonists mirror De Haan and his friend, Arnold Aletrino, to whom the books was originally dedicated.

A secular homosexual author who received a PhD in law at the age of 28, de Haan married a Christian woman who was a few years older than him. Later, however, he became ultra-Orthodox and immigrated to Palestine as a devout Zionist.

Several years after that de Haan had a change of heart, and he engaged in the opposition to the Zionist enterprise. On June 30, 1924, he became the victim of what Wikipedia now refers to as, “the first political murder in the Jewish community in Palestine.”

To some, De Haan’s persona might fit in the eclectic image of the Dutch capital – a city that’s also commonly nicknamed ‘Mokum’, from Yiddish for ‘place.’

The monument to Jacob Israel de Haan in Amsterdam. (Photo: Lukas Koster/CC)

The monument to Jacob Israel de Haan in Amsterdam. (Photo: Lukas Koster/CC)

To be sure, despite its uber-liberal reputation, xenophobia is disturbingly prevalent among contemporary Dutch society. 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. At best he would be cast by the producers of “Big Brother” (a TV format ironically – or not – created by the Dutch production company Endemol.)

Comfortably ignoring these aspects in his story, the anti-Zionist Haredi sect of Neturei Karta have since embraced De Haan as ‘Professor Saint.’

And it seems that the lesson has not been learned. One does not need to endorse De Haan’s political agenda to recognize the possible ramifications of intolerance toward another’s political convictions.

Consequently, while viewed as a respected author in The Netherlands – whose government today is one of Israel’s most ardent European supporters – De Haan’s story largely remains a blind spot in the Israeli narrative.

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’

Ido Liven is an independent journalist covering mainly environmental issues and foreign affairs for Israeli and international publications.  A version of this post first appeared on his blog.


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    1. shachalnur

      De Haan was no exception 90 years ago,since most Dutch Jews were anti-Zionist in those times.

      European Jewry saw 1897 Zionism as a program to exterminate the Jewish People.

      Even today the majority of Jews left in Holland are very sceptical about Zionist Israel,since they understand that whatever wild plans 1897 Zionism has,the blowback will hit Jews that don’t agree with 1897 Zionism.

      It happened before WW2,when 1897 Zionist Jews in the US and GB were whipping up hate towards Jews ,and European Jews are aware we most likely will see a repetition.

      Most Jews assimilated or hide being Jewish since they cannot identify with Judaism under control of Israel and 1897 Zionism.

      Since 1945 17 million people born Jewish and alive today ,have turned their backs in silence or disgust on 1897 Zionism controlled and -organized Judaism.

      If being Jewish means underwriting Israel’s and 1897 Zionism’s actions,they prefer to be keep quiet,and patiently wait untill this nightmare is over.

      All Jews that turned their backs on 1897 Zionism controlled Judaism and all anti-Zionist Jews together already add up to 2/3 of people born Jewish alive today.

      A few million 1897 Zionist Chosenite Holocaustionists are ending up isolated in their paranoid Chosen lunatic asylum supported by some very rich Bankerslaves in the US and GB,waiting for their Pharao to pull the plug on them.

      Jacob de Haan was an average European Jew 90 years ago.

      Reply to Comment
      • shachalnur

        There are about 30.000 Jews left in Holland(was about 125.000 before WW2),and an estimated 10,000 to 12.000 of them are Israeli’s that settled in the Netherlands.

        About 100.000 Israeli Jews moved to Germany.

        Most have children ,and chose for their children to grow up in a country where hating everybody else is not a daily obsession.

        They are still counted as living in Israel ,to keep up the numbers in Israel.

        Worldwide a million Israeli Jews have left Israel permanently,and that number will grow .

        Reply to Comment
    2. Efraim

      Is this translated from Ivrit ? The syntax is quite odd

      Reply to Comment
      • rsgengland

        Probably Yiddish or Dutch

        Reply to Comment
    3. Jacob Israel de Haan lost his job at the Government Law School in Jerusalem because of a boycot by the zionists.
      They killed him just before he was going to England with a delegation to protest the Balfour Declaration.
      He was a very remarkable man.
      Although de Haan had the habit of destroying all letters he received, there is one left by Bialik, thanking him for a book received and telling him that the Jewish community in Jerusalem did not speak well of him.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben Zakkai

      Strange. Even a quick glance at the brief English and more detailed Hebrew Wikipedia entries on de Haan paint a picture of a man who was brilliant, talented and energetic but also perpetually searching and almost certainly miserable, even tortured. He came from a religious family but began a secular and homosexual life, became a socialist, married a Christian woman, wrote literature and learned law, dedicated himself to human rights and then to Zionism, but after his arrival in Palestine returned to the ultra-religious fold (while apparently not entirely giving up his homosexual lifestyle) and became a staunch and vocal anti-Zionist, using his many skills and talents to articulate his views abroad. He seems to have been embarked on a lifelong search for truth, meaning, justice, love and happiness — plus, of course, the demands of his not inconsiderable ego — until he was murdered. Somebody with a taste for writing screenplays could no doubt get a good story out of De Haan’s life and death.

      Reply to Comment
    5. This guy was a right moron. He failed to grasp the direction of Jewish history in the 1920s.
      If he had lived another 24 years, he would have witnessed Israel’s founding.

      Reply to Comment
      • DerAsylant

        most probably he would be forwarded by durch anti-zionists to german anti-zionists and suffered an unfortunate accident in somewhere in east europe.

        Reply to Comment