From Nation State to Node State

My article in Haaretz today (which I originally wanted to be called “Altneuewelt” but David Green found it too cheesy) is the beginning of a serious project I’d love to undertake with interested folks: envisioning the digital-age state framework and how that connects and enhances the potential of the Jewish People. The key idea is in this paragraph:

If Israel is no nation-state, it might be more useful to think of it as a node-state – that is, as the sovereign element chosen by narrative and collective will at the center of a global network. Whereas the entire network is interdependent its center is currently restricted by our theory to operate as a nation-state. That is to say, the State of Israel might benefit from the global network, but in its functioning, most of its focus has been on basic domestic operations only, which affect only a small set of nodes on this network, and it permits only a minority of its network members to elect representatives whose decisions will affect the network as a whole. For example, even though Israel’s financial health depends just as much on foreign investment as it does on domestic production, it is the residents that determine the economic policy that affects the return on those investments – and thereby the network’s overall health. As populations shift, this same network effect facing Israel will face other nations as well.

I’m sure folks have done a lot more thinking than I have on this — I’d love to hear opinions.
Full article after the jump below.


From nation-state to node-state
Among the efforts he made aimed at leaving a positive mark on Israel that would remain long after his departure from the premiership, Ehud Olmert set out to transform the conceptual and practical relationship between the state and the Jewish Diaspora. He began doing so last summer, when, in a speech before the Jewish Agency’s board of governors, he said that, “We must stop talking in terms of big brother and little brother, and instead speak in terms of two brothers marching hand in hand and supporting each other.” To translate thought to policy, his government tasked the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute (JPPPI) with developing a new strategy for the state to involve itself with the Diaspora both fiscally and programmatically, in order to strengthen Jewish identity especially insofar as it is connected to Israel.
While the JPPPI’s project might seem to be relatively unimportant for the national agenda, the topic of its study – Israel’s existence as a state connected to an extra-territorial people – strikes at the heart of the challenges the government will have to tackle in the years to come, including the essence of democracy in this land, citizenship, economic custody and advancing development. The topic is pivotal because, before one can answer how the state might involve itself with the Diaspora, one needs to consider the more basic question: What is the practical essence of the relationship between the State of Israel and the Jewish nation? Answering this question depends just as much on the philosophy of the state as it does on the larger trends affecting all of humanity.
The challenge put forward by Olmert’s government is based on a certain reading of history. Coming into existence as it did in the wake of the Holocaust, Israel has often seen itself and been perceived by others as protector of, and safe haven for, the Jewish people. And a division of responsibility quickly developed: The state would defend, and the Diaspora would fund. As such, when Jews were in danger – whether in Entebbe, Ethiopia or Argentina – Israeli Jews were called to arms. And when Israel was at war, Diaspora Jews were called to open their wallets. This paradigm of Israel as defender and Diaspora as enabler extends Israel’s role from defending Jewish bodies to defending Jewish souls through efforts to fight assimilation among Jews abroad.
But times are changing, and so are our relationships. As Isaac Herzog, the minister of welfare and social services, said at a recent conference held by the Israel Venture Association, whereas governments were set up under the assumption that “citizens and residents are one and the same,” today that is not necessarily the case, due to the heightened mobility of the “creative class,” and the demand for foreign workers that drives the Israeli economy. This new demographic reality demands a new understanding of the state’s role.
The nation-state’s founding assumption was that nations could be forged through common myth and culture out of the residents living within a given set of boundaries. If you lived within those boundaries, you were generally granted citizenship, in return for acceptance of centrally mandated laws and majority-determined cultural and behavioral norms. As such, we speak of the French nation-state, even though there are over a half-dozen ethnic groups in France that want nothing to do with the French nation, just as there are minorities elsewhere who are claimed as part of the nation writ large only because they inhabit the same territory.
The State of Israel, in this way, was doubly special – first because it claimed to be the state of the Jews even as the majority of the Jewish nation still lived outside its boundaries, and second because it had no desire to integrate other, non-Jewish groups among its citizenry into the Jewish nation. Israel has thus been criticized for not behaving like a classic nation-state. But it might also be wrestling with a challenge a bit ahead of its time: the separation of citizenship and residency, of state and nation.
If Israel is no nation-state, it might be more useful to think of it as a node-state – that is, as the sovereign element chosen by narrative and collective will at the center of a global network. Whereas the entire network is interdependent its center is currently restricted by our theory to operate as a nation-state. That is to say, the State of Israel might benefit from the global network, but in its functioning, most of its focus has been on basic domestic operations only, which affect only a small set of nodes on this network, and it permits only a minority of its network members to elect representatives whose decisions will affect the network as a whole. For example, even though Israel’s financial health depends just as much on foreign investment as it does on domestic production, it is the residents that determine the economic policy that affects the return on those investments – and thereby the network’s overall health. As populations shift, this same network effect facing Israel will face other nations as well.
A global era, and a globe-spanning people demands a global vision for the Jewish nation’s collective governance institutions – and a recognition of the state’s role as a node-state within a wider array. As such, any new vision for the state’s relationship with Diaspora Jews that is based on the old paradigm will be obsolete at birth. Instead, we need a new vision for the state itself, a vision that grapples with our Altneuwelt as opposed to our Altneuland. Or to return to Olmert’s speech, we are not two brothers walking together, separate and equal, but rather one body economic and politic living thanks to the blessings of our global interdependence, the many pieces of which make up a whole that we have yet to envision.

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