Rep. George Miller explains Mideast vote in Vallejo

He knew the question was coming.

As one of a small number of House members to vote against May's non-binding resolution to support Israel, Rep. George Miller knew his Jewish constituents would want to know why he voted as he did. And he was prepared to tell them during an event sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Vallejo Monday evening.

"The resolution was very strongly worded," said Miller (D-Martinez) "and made no suggestion about creating a Palestinian state. I didn't think it was helpful, and neither did the administration."

House Resolution 392, which passed 352-to-21 with 29 simply voting present, voiced "solidarity with Israel" in its fight against Palestinian terrorism.

"I expressed at the time that I would have supported a version that included language endorsing a Palestinian state at the end of the process," Miller added. "I'm sorry if this makes people question my support of Israel. I exercised my right to exercise my independence."

Several dozen of Miller's Jewish constituents assembled in Congregation B'nai Israel's social hall Monday, to hear Miller's views on Israel and other foreign policy matters. The longtime congressional liberal represents parts of Contra Costa and most of Solano counties.

The meeting was one of several with various congressional representatives that AIPAC hosts throughout the region and in other areas of the country.

Miller's vote on House Resolution 392 was "one of the things we brought up at the meeting, but it was not the purpose of the meeting," said Zachary Bodner, AIPAC's Northern California director, after the event. "The purpose of the meeting was to talk to the congregation about items on AIPAC's agenda and to hope he'll stand firmly behind Israel."

In his introduction of Miller, Bodner told audience members they should have been there to congratulate the congressman for helping to lead the Mideast peace effort through a two-state solution.

"But Camp David didn't have a happy ending," Bodner said. "And now we're having to talk to the congressman about suicide bombers and terrorism and Israel's right to defend herself. This is not the time for equivocation — not the time for moral equivalency."

Miller seemed to agree, mostly, though he said he continues to search for diplomatic solutions even where, he admits, one may not exist.

"I can remember being invited to Camp David, and I thought I'd be part of something great. But that didn't pan out, and here we are now, mired in this seemingly endless cycle of violence."

Miller said he thinks the "two old warriors," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, are not equipped to find a political solution, and that unless new leadership is found, the situation can only get worse.

"Israel has had to demand aid for the Palestinians because they're in such terrible shape, just to keep this thing from blowing up in their face. And the Israelis are suffering a huge economic detriment and the sadness from all the violence," Miller said. "I don't think Arafat is going to be the first kid on the block to deliver a Palestinian state. I don't think he has it in him."

Rabbi Steve Vale of Congregation Ha Makom, the Jewish Community of Solano County, was generally pleased with Miller's responses.

"These were some hardball questions, and I think he did a great job," Vale said. "The only place where he missed the boat was in thinking we can impose our Western thinking on others. There are cultures that don't think the way we do. They don't hate [America and Jews] because of which of their leaders we've backed [as Miller suggested]. It's not as rational as that. They hate us for irrational reasons."

Most agreed that even if a political solution were found tomorrow, it would take years before tensions died down to anything approximating normal.

"We're talking about 30 or 40 years of peacekeeping once peace is achieved," Miller said.

Discussing the event the next day, Bodner called it a positive meeting, adding that Miller "agreed to support several resolutions important to the pro-Israel community," including one on Syria and another on Iran, "and even agreed to consider taking a trip to Israel."

Rachel Raskin-Zrihen
Rachel Raskin-Zrihen

A wife and mother of two grown sons, Rachel Raskin-Zrihen is a longtime Bay Area journalist, columnist and co-author of the book "Jewish Community of Solano County."