When I was an Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia 1966-68, I neither hid nor emphasized that we were Jews. I do not recall if there was an organized community in Athens. The children were too small to worry about their religious education. I remember a lunch with a senior colleague who spoke with pride about the progress being made at the university. "Now we are good enough to attract northerners to the university, like Ira. Soon we may be good enough to attract Jews." I perceived the remark to be philo-Semitic, rather than anti-Semitic. Another of my senior colleagues invited graduate students and young faculty members to his home. His evenings featured the singing of Christian hymns.
When the Six Day war occurred, I was invited to a meeting in one of the better homes. I may have been the only Jew among the lawyers, physicians, businessmen, and university people, all worried about Israel and all donating money. It was my first encounter with support for Israel among religious Protestants, especially Baptists and other Fundamentalists.
Since then the phenomenon has become well known. It includes pastor-led visits to the Holy Land, which combine Christian sites in Jerusalem and the Galilee, a dip in the Jordan, a flag-waving parade in Jerusalem, a song fest with Israeli tunes in Hebrew, and expressions of support for Israel and the Jewish people. Back home, the preachers and their flocks have been important in the support of Republican presidents, especially Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Their intense opposition to abortion, stem-cell research, plus support for prayer in the schools and faith-based social programming provokes the concern of liberal Jews, especially the Conservative and Reform varieties. However, their ringing endorsements of Israel go over well with most American Jews, and earn photo opportunities with Israeli prime ministers.
The same groups have made significant contributions to campaigns to aid Israelis in distress, as in areas affected by Hizbollah rocket attacks during the summer of 2006, and absorption programs for Russian and Ethiopian immigrants. Occasionally there are missionaries who seek to spread their faith, but they are less prominent than enthusiastic supporters who have adopted the label of Christian Zionists.
Some of their sweeping endorsements of all that Israel does (and sometimes wanting more) may embarrass the more nuanced Israelis, but they are good to hear against the efforts of Presbyterians and others who wanted to punish Israeli aggression and occupation by disinvestments at the least. We learned to filter out demands that we replace the Muslim structures on the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary with the Third Temple, and apocalyptic rhetoric that would have Jewish survivors accept Jesus in the end of days.
Now there are nuances on the Christian right. Some pastors are speaking about a fair solution, and justice for both parties. Not surprisingly, there is a limit to Christian congeniality. Against the new voices are some old ones. One quotation from a recent issue of the International Herald Tribune http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/07/29/news/church.php
"God gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a covenant in the Book of Genesis for the land of Israel that is eternal and unbreakable, and that covenant is still intact . . .The Palestinian people have never owned the land of Israel, never existed as an autonomous society. There is no Palestinian language. There is no Palestinian currency. And to say that Palestinians have a right to that land historically is an historical fraud."
Whatever develops from this will join the fall out from the Palestinian civil war, and may leave at least a small mark on the Middle East. We hear that President George W. Bush wants to see the declaration of a Palestinian state before he leaves office. President Shimon Peres, with substantially less authority, still dreams of a New Middle East.
We'll see. It may be exciting.