After two weeks of controversy over whether former President Barack Obama’s views on Israel should disqualify him from membership, leaders of the predominantly Jewish Woodmont Country Club in Rockville sent a letter to its members Monday saying that it would formally offer Obama a special membership.
“The club’s leadership has considered this issue in the context of our over 100-year history as a welcoming place for people who were excluded elsewhere because of their beliefs,” said Barry Forman, the president of the club, which was founded when Jews were barred from joining gentile clubs. “Given our legacy, it is regrettable that we have now been widely portrayed as unwelcoming and intolerant because that is not who we are.”
In an email exchange with Washington Jewish Week, Forman acknowledged that the brouhaha — which has been reported on in the national and international media — brought “undesirable attention” to the club.
Forman also explained that the club delayed its response until after Obama left office.
“As we had said many times, we had not received an application or a request for an application,” he wrote. “It simply would have been inappropriate for a sitting president to take that path. We always knew that the consideration would wait until he was no longer in office.”
Forman declined to elaborate on the conflict the matter created with the club’s membership, writing only that “we will work hard to bring our membership back together.”
The controversy began Jan. 10, when the New York Post reported that vocal Woodmont members opposed granting Obama membership because of his decision late in his tenure as president not to veto a U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlements.
Last week, Jeffrey Slavin, the mayor of the small town of Somerset who is active in the Democratic Party, resigned from the club, protesting that Woodmont hadn’t publicly extended Obama an offer. Slavin wrote in a letter to club leadership that a public invitation to Obama would “erase this emerging permanent stain on the club’s stellar reputation.”
“My intent was that justice be done, and that the club respond appropriately,” Slavin told the New York Times after Forman sent his letter.
The letter made clear that the club would waive its $80,000 membership initiation fee for Obama, although the letter also said that club leadership does not know whether Obama is actually interested in joining the club. The Washington Post reported that Obama played golf at the club four times during his presidency.
In his letter, Forman acknowledged that this issue will continue to be discussed within the club.
”While we strongly believe this is the right decision, we understand it will be accompanied by continued discussion within our community,” he wrote.
While Woodmont members were generally reluctant to discuss the controversy on the record, the Washington Post obtained a December email from longtime club member Faith Goldstein that said, “[Obama] has created a situation in the world where Israel’s very existence is weakened and possibly threatened . . . He is not welcome at Woodmont. His admittance would create a storm that could destroy our club.”
The original New York Post story, which was picked up by many news outlets, included a quote from a unnamed “official in a Washington Jewish organization” who said, “Can you imagine how angry I would be if I had paid $80K to have to look at this guy who has done more to damage Israel than any president in American history?”
Forman also told club membership that the leadership would “hold conversations within our community in the near future to further explore our history and common values.”
“We had concluded more than a week ago that we needed to develop a path of dialogue to bring our membership back together, and those concepts are still evolving,” he told Washington Jewish Week.