Part 2: The Story of a Spiritual Peace Activist

The Meeting with the Arab King:


Introductory Review:


To further the goal of peaceful cooperation with the Arabs, Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld sought to arrange a meeting with King Hussein ibn-Ali, head of the Hashemite dynasty. Hussein was considered the senior and most influential Arab leader in Arabia and the entire Middle East. With the support of the British, his son Faisal became the Emir of Iraq, and his son Abdullah became the Emir of Trans-Jordan – an area west of the Jordan River. (Trans-Jordan was originally part of “Palestine”; however, the British separated it from the rest of the Land and gave it over to the Hashemite dynasty.) The King had a positive attitude towards Jewish immigration to the Land; in fact, he called on the Arabs to remember that their traditions bid them to be hospitable and tolerant, and he acknowledged that the Jews had historic roots in the Land.

When King Hussein visited his son Abdullah in Amman, many delegations went to greet him, including a delegation from the World Zionist Organization. Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld considered this a unique opportunity to meet with the senior Arab ruler and apprise him of the position of the chareidim, who advocated mass Jewish immigration in cooperation with the Arab leadership. Dr. De Haan, who had already become a popular figure in the courts of the Arab monarchs, and who was especially friendly with Emir Abdullah, arranged a meeting between a delegation of chareidi leaders and King Hussein. These distinguished delegates not only represented the chareidi Jews of the Old Yishuv; they also represented the international chareidi organization, Agudath Israel, which was founded by the Chofetz Chaim and other leading sages; in fact, Rav Yosef Chaim was a leader of the Jerusalem branch of Agudath Israel.


Dear Friends,


The delegation which was organized by Dr. De Haan and headed by Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnefeld left for the meeting with King Hussein in the early morning of 19 Adar 5684 (1924). That afternoon, they were respectfully received by the king and many other Arab dignitaries in the large royal tent. After a cordial hour of conversation, King Hussein was presented with a prepared statement written in both Hebrew and Arabic. The statement explained that Agudath Israel, which they represented, was a world organization numbering a million members and representing the views of countless more, who though not members, shared their desire to preserve “the classic nature of the People of Israel.” The statement went on to assure the king that Jews throughout the world had always sought friendly relations with their neighbors and that Jews in the Holy Land also follow this tradition. The statement added:


“We desire to continue this relationship in the future, so that all ethnic groups in the Holy Land may work together to settle it and rebuild it. We also hope that His Majesty will use his considerable influence to improve the lot of Jews living in all Arab countries.”


After an Arab minister finished reading the statement to King Hussein, the king replied with a short, friendly speech in which he expressed his appreciation for the sincere good will that existed between the two ethnically-related peoples and his strong desire to see those ties continued and strengthened. At the end of the meeting, Emir Abdullah, the ruler of Trans-Jordan and the king’s son, announced that he had been asked by his father to confer the Oht Halstaklal, Arabia’s highest honor, on the venerable Rav Sonnenfeld. Abdullah also bedecked Dr. De Haan with a gilded kafiah (headdress) and abbayah (cloak), moreover, he handed him a large sum of money to be distributed among Jerusalem’s Jewish poor. That very evening, following a cordial farewell, the delegation returned to Jerusalem. Their plan was to continue the negotiations in order to achieve peace in the land; thus, Dr. De Haan was in frequent contact with Emir Abdullah.


The leadership of the World Zionist Organization bitterly opposed the attempt by the Torah-committed Jews of the Old Yishuv to engage in negotiations with King Hussein, for if these negotiations would succeed, their own organization would likely lose power and influence. They were therefore very angry at De Haan for using his diplomatic contacts with Arab rulers to arrange these negotiations. Even before these negotiations with the king began, the leaders of the W.Z.O. were angry that De Haan had left their organization, and that he was using his legal and diplomatic talents to help the Torah-committed Jews of the Old Yishuv secure the right to govern their own communities without interference from the World Zionist Organization. They therefore publicly defamed De Haan’s character, and they also made it difficult for him to earn a livelihood. For example, after leaving the W.Z.O., he was fired from his position as a professor at Hebrew University.


These leaders later became angrier when they discovered that Dr. De Haan was going to London in order to discuss with the Conservative Party, which had just won the elections, the urgent request of the Torah-committed Jews of the Old Yishuv to be allowed to retain their original independence and not be subjected to the authority of the secular-dominated W.Z.O. and its institutions. As the opposition of the W.Z.O. became more intense, threats were made on De Haan’s life.


On Monday evening, June 30, 1924 – a few days before he was to begin his trip to London – Dr. De Haan prayed the evening prayers in the synagogue of Shaarei Tzedek Hospital. After the prayers, he left the building by a small side-entrance on Rechov Yaffo. He had taken but a few steps when three shots shattered the stillness of the night. When the hospital gatekeeper came running over, he found De Haan lying on the pavement, covered with blood oozing from three bullet holes in the portion of his talis kattan covering his heart. (The talis kattan is a traditional four-cornered garment with fringes worn by Jewish men.) The police were summoned immediately; however a detachment led by a Jewish officer, David Tidhar, proceeded to “pursue” the killers in a different direction from the one in which they had fled! This caused great suspicion, for Tidhar was also connected to the Haganah, the “defense force” of the World Zionist Organization.


Many activists within the W.Z.O. condemned the appalling crime, especially since this was perhaps the first time since the period of the Second Temple that Jews had murdered another Jew for political reasons. The sages of the Old Yishuv suspected that certain leaders within the World Zionist Organization had given the order that Dr. De Haan be killed. Their suspicions were confirmed years later by the admissions of some important officials and historians who were associated with the Haganah. For example, Shaul Avigur was a historian of the Haganah, and in his work, Toldoth HaHaganah (The History of the Haganah), he writes:


“One of the missions carried out at the time by the Haganah headquarters was the assault on De Haan.” (Part I, vol 2, pp. 251-252)


And in 1970, an Israeli radio program called Zarkor (Spotlight) broadcast a few interviews with Haganah leaders and historians regarding the decision to kill Dr. De Haan. Sad to say, they attempted to justify the decision. One of the people interviewed was David Tidhar, the Haganah member who was also the police officer on duty in the area on the night that De Haan was killed. He admitted that the Haganah had killed Dr. De Haan, and he added:


“After he had done so much damage, it was decided in the Haganah to remove him and not allow him to travel to London. If he would have continued to live, he would have caused trouble. I regret that I was not chosen to liquidate him. My job was to protect those who did.”


Yehudah Slutzki, another historian of the Haganah, was also interviewed, and he explained why the Haganah was given the order to murder Dr. De Haan, who had also become the representative of the chareidi organization, Agudath Israel. The following is an excerpt from his comments:


"Agudath Israel had thrust itself into the midst of a communal struggle. Until the First World War, the Old Yishuv was in control. They had comprised the majority of the Jewish population and now felt like prisoners in their own home. The Old Yishuv refused to surrender and submit to secular domination...De Haan used his connections to move the struggle into the realm of international politics. He aspired to establish a political organization to rival the Zionist movement, which was then still in its infancy and not yet fully established – this was the danger of De Haan. Yosef Hecht, commander of the Haganah, received instructions to eliminate the traitor.”


The radio program stimulated further discussion. There was a long article about the assassination printed in the January 21, 1972 edition of the Israeli newspaper, HaAretz, by the historian and geographer, A.J. Brawer, who had been a fierce opponent of De Haan. In this article, he urged that leaders of the W.Z.O. do some soul-searching regarding the decision to assassinate Dr. De Haan. He therefore made the following suggestion to the leaders, which they decided to ignore:


“I strongly suggest that testimony be collected from people of all viewpoints who had dealings with Dr. De Haan, to determine whether he really was such a dangerous traitor. It is very important to know whether his elimination was something necessitated by the times or a tragic error. Let the experts decide what they will, but I for one am afraid that the stain of murder will not be eradicated from the judgment made by future generations.”


The morning after Yaakov Yisrael De Haan was murdered, thousands of deeply saddened people gathered for the funeral. They wept not only for the idealist who had been cut down in the prime of his life; they also wept for those leaders within the W.Z.O. who had sunk so low by resorting to murder as a means of eliminating a political opponent – one who had a great love for Zion, but who had a different approach to strengthening Jewish life in Zion than they did.   Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld was the first to eulogize the fallen martyr, and the following is an excerpt from his eulogy:


“This murder, perpetrated by the descendants of Jacob employing the tactics of Esau in order to still the voice of Yisrael and Yaakov, must strengthen us in our struggle to guard our camp against influences alien to our spirit and our Torah. This pure blood which has been spilled cries out from the stained talis katan: ‘You shall see it and remember all the mitzvos of Hashem, and you shall not be led astray after your heart’ (Numbers 15:39).”


After the assassination of De Haan, moderate Arab leaders like King Hussein began to lose influence, and as we shall later discuss, violence against Jews increased in the Land. This violence led the British to begin to severely limit Jewish immigration to the Land. In addition, the small quota of Jews allowed to enter the Land prevented many Jews in Europe from escaping to the Land of Zion when the Nazis began to increase their power.


Yaakov Yisrael De Haan rediscovered the spiritual and universal vision of our heritage. We, my dear friends, are in the process of gaining a deeper understanding of this vision, and it is therefore fitting that we remember this sensitive and searching soul. Through this remembering, we can also contribute to a “tikun” for a tragic act of violence in our sacred land which increased divisions among our people. In this spirit, I will conclude this letter with the following words of a traditional prayer:


“May his soul be bound in the Bond of Life, together with the souls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah; and together “with all the other righteous men and women in the Garden of Eden.” (Yizkor)


With yearning for our redemption, and with blessings for Shabbat Shalom,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Comments:


1. The yahrtzeit of Yaakov Yisrael De Haan is on the 23rd of Sivan which begins this Friday evening, June 4th


2. The information in the above letter is from “Guardian of Jerusalem – the Life and Times of Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld.” The author is Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Sonnenfeld, and the book is published by Mesorah Publications.


The well-documented historical accounts in this book can help us to understand the roots of current conflicts and problems within Israeli society. For information on this highly recommended work, visit:  .


Some of you may be interested in the original and larger Hebrew edition – HaIsh AlHaChomah – which has additional documentation.

Hazon - Our Universal Vision