The day before the 61st anniversary of Ghana’s independence, President Nana Akufo-Addo was scheduled to speak at the annual conference in Washington DC of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most powerful pro-Israel lobbying organization in the United States. Akufo-Addo’s speech and trip to the US were ultimately cut short as he responded to a series of domestic robberies in Ghana that dominated politics back home. However, the intentions of Akufo-Addo’s participation at AIPAC’s conference raised questions about how Ghana, one of Africa’s first nations to gain independence, is developing such a close relationship with Israel, a modern-day settler-colonial power.
Ghana’s rapprochement with Israel comes as Palestinians mourn the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the catastrophe of their dispossession of their homeland by the State of Israel. In some ways, Israel’s evolving relationship with Ghana is not unique: In recent decades, Israel has turned to Africa in an effort to build geopolitical alliances and support in the United Nations. Israeli propaganda in Ghana — and elsewhere on the continent — also aims to fuse nationalism with religious indoctrination, especially among evangelical Christians.
A 2014 BBC World Service poll on international views of Israel survey found that the populations of Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and the United States were most sympathetic to Israel’s global image. In Ghana, specifically, public opinion in favor of Israel nearly tripled between 2012 and 2014 in accordance with increased evangelical influence in the country.
Prior to the 2017 UN vote on Jerusalem, evangelical groups in the US indicated an expectation that Ghana and other African nations would vote in favor of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Rev. John Hagee, an evangelical pastor in Texas and founder of Christians United for Israel explained, “Due to the Israelis’ incredible emphasis on humanitarian assistance, the Jewish state has deep relations with many African countries and other nations in the developing world, and that is perhaps the reason we’ve seen leaders from Tanzania and Ghana indicate a willingness to follow President [Donald] Trump’s lead.”
In a recent interview the Rev Gilbert Apreala, a prominent evangelical Nigerian pastor based in Ghana and the former country director for the Africa-Israel Initiative, outlined the evangelical strategy to garner political support for Israel within Ghanaian churches. Apreala explained: “The Africa-Israel Initiative is an advocacy group for Africa-Israel relations, and you can tell that lately Israel has come back to Africa, and Africa is embracing Israel.” He says, “We want African countries to support Israel at the United Nations level, and for Africa to be blessed by the God of Israel for supporting Israel.” When Ghana elected Akufo-Addo in 2016, his spokesperson at the time, Adi Timor, emphasized the role Akufo-Addo would play in strengthening ties with Israel. Akufo-Addo’s foreign affairs agenda was guided by “deep religious [Christian] conviction.”
Despite optimism from supporters of Israel that Ghana would vote in accordance with the United States, the Ghanaian UN delegation voted against recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Martha Ama Pobee, Ghana’s permanent representative to the UN explained that the country’s vote was keeping in accordance with “relevant UN and AU resolutions.”
Soon after, Ami Melh, the Israeli ambassador to Ghana, denounced Ghana’s “mistaken” decision to vote against the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Several Ghanaian politicians and journalists suggested it was a misuse of Melh’s ambassadorial power to disparage the decisions of Ghana’s independent and sovereign government. In response, Melh criticized the media representation of his own statements suggesting it “was twisted by some anti-Israel, anti-Christian journalists that for their reason they will like even to abolish Israel.”
Melh’s statement is boilerplate for public representatives of Israel, except for his attempt to conflate Christian values with support for Israel. While accusations of anti-Semitism have currency in countering anti-occupation rhetoric in the West, pro-Israel forces in Ghana have recognized that “anti-Christian” is much more salient term in Ghana, where such an accusation would be considered highly offensive.
In April, Ras Mubarak, a prominent Ghanaian lawmaker and the spokesman of Ghana’s Palestinian Solidarity Campaign was denied entry to the West Bank by Israeli authorities, despite having a visa. Mubarak had intended to participate in a conference on the topic of Jerusalem. In response to the scandal, Mehl told Ghana’s StarrFM: “It’s bullshit. It’s propaganda. He [Mubarak] is a propaganda machine of the Palestinians. We don’t treat him seriously because he is not a serious person.” Mehl also attacked the radio host in what has been described as a “melt down” after she referred to the West Bank as “OPT” or Occupied Palestinian Territories. Mehl responded to this by discrediting the existence of Palestine, claiming, “There is no OPT, there is no Palestine, there was never a Palestine. It’s Israel.”
Over the last several years the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign has organized several demonstrations in opposition to the expansion of the Israeli occupation in Palestine. Led by Mubarak, a parliamentarian for the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign has openly supported the Boycott Divest Sanction movement in Ghana.
While the Israeli ambassador criticizes Ghanaian politicians and lawmakers, Israel continues to threaten imprisonment and deportation of African refugees and immigrants living in Israel, including Ghanaians.
African nations have historically supported UN resolutions critical of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, yet Israel is making a push to disrupt this voting block, incentivizing political support with industrial investments around the continent. At a February meeting in Israel with African diplomats, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained, “The first interest is to dramatically change the situation regarding African votes at the UN and other international bodies from opposition to support.” It is important to recognize that growing foreign aid and investment from Israel in Africa is guided by this principle. The Israeli government has made it clear that this type of support comes with strings attached. In 2016, Israel formally ended foreign aid and diplomacy programs in both Senegal and Angola after their UN representatives voted in favor of a resolution condemning the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Straddling its role as a symbolic leader of postcolonial Africa and its increasing complacency with an evangelical agenda, Ghanaian political leaders will be tasked with reconsidering its role in the modern day anti-colonial struggle. Having itself suffered from the instrumentalization of Christianity to justify colonialism, Ghana is armed with the historical context necessary to disentangle convoluted religious arguments surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.