Dispute over Obama’s membership in largely Jewish country club heats up

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden practice their putting on the White House putting green April 24, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden practice their putting on the White House putting green April 24, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

The brouhaha over whether Woodmont Country Club should extend a membership offer to President Barack Obama intensified Monday, as a prominent member publicly resigned from the club and the president of the club shot back.

“If you are now referring to Jeffrey Slavin’s very public resignation, you should consider his motivation,” Woodmont President Barry Forman wrote in an email to Washington Jewish Week, referring to the mayor of the small town of Somerset.

Forman declined to explain what he meant by Slavin’s “motivation,” but he added, “Read his letter and ask yourself if it relates to the politics of Somerset.”

Earlier in the day, Slavin wrote in a widely circulated email to Woodmont General Manager Brian Pizzimenti that he was withdrawing from the club after reports that a vocal group of club members opposed offering Obama a membership because of his policies toward Israel.


“I can no longer belong to a community where intolerance is accepted, where history is forgotten, where freedom of speech is denied and where the nation’s first black president is disrespected,” wrote Slavin, who is active in the Democratic Party and the liberal pro-Israel organization JStreet.

Jeffrey Slavin

In an interview, Slavin responded to Forman’s assertion that Slavin had ulterior motivations, saying, “I don’t have any other motivation in doing this and I’m not running for office. I’m just on the side of justice and truth. Barry [Forman] is a wonderful man, but he’s in over his head in handling this.”

Slavin first sent a public letter to Forman late last week urging the club, which was founded in 1913 by Jews who were barred from joining gentile clubs, to publicly extend a membership offer to Obama. That followed media reports that the club wouldn’t do so because of Obama’s policies toward Israel. Slavin wrote that a public invitation to Obama would “erase this emerging permanent stain on the club’s stellar reputation.”

Slavin said that he was inspired this weekend to resign from the club after attending an interfaith Shabbat service at Washington Hebrew Congregation that honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He added that since he went public with his resignation, he had received a good amount of hate email, including from Jews who accused him of being anti-Semitic.

While club members have generally been reluctant to talk publicly about this controversy, 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 New York Post, which originally reported on this controversy, claimed that anonymous club members were offended by Obama’s decision not to veto a U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlements and by Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech late last month in which he criticized Israel’s continued settlement building. Both Kerry and the resolution said Israel’s settlement policy was closing the possibility of a two-state solution.

The 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?”

Politico reported this summer that Obama was interested in joining the club because it does not have a history of discriminating against minorities and because it would waive its $80,000 membership initiation fee and $9,673 in annual dues. The Washington Post reported that Obama had played golf there four times.

The White House did not return a request to comment on this story.

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  1. As a Jewish woman probably old enough to be Barry Forman’s mother, I grew up in an era when Jews could not join country clubs, stay at nice hotels, or expect to be accepted at ‘good’ universities.

    Do not tell me that what the membership of the Woodmont club is doing isn’t racism: unless the club’s membership is limited to a very narrow political spectrum of Jews, I would bet that some of its present members aren’t all that happy with Israel’s current policies — which does NOT make them anti-Semitic! As a Jew who is strongly committed to the values that brought my grandparents to America, I am outraged by the current Israeli government’s attitudes toward the settlements, toward women, toward the power of the super-religious. That doesn’t make me anti-Israeli; it makes me stand in opposition to some of the government’s policies.

    In light of that, should I want to become a member of your club, would someone blackball me because they don’t like my positions re current Israeli policy? I realize that Obama’s policies carry more weight than my opinions — but I think he was absolutely right in finally saying that the US, while supporting Israel, does not have to sycophantically approve an evil that is being proposed by the current government there.

    Being a good Jew doesn’t mean supporting any and all policies in Israel — any more than being a good American means supporting any and all policies in the United States. Being a good Jew speaks to human values; and you think a Nobel Peace Prize winner isn’t good enough for you?

    For shame!

  2. Putting aside the Israel issue, how much can a “Jewish” country club represent Jewish values if the club has a treife kitchen and operates on Shabbos?

  3. Without regard to Mr. Slavin’s behavior, it would make me an even prouder Jew, if Woodmont, a largely Jewish country club, would extend an invitation to Barack Obama, our first African-American president. It’s an honor to the club to have the President as a member.

  4. There are many good reasons to dislike, even despise,Obama. Over the course of his 8 year tenure in the Oval Office he has weakened America, betrayed our allies and polarized the nation. He willfully ignored the law in pursuit of a narrow political agenda, governing by Executive order. So, why would any fairminded persons conclude, when some members of a private club object to offering him a free membership, that their objections are motivated by racism? What’s the basis for that particular inference? In sum, many a decent and fair-minded person might simply dislike the man for his behavior and character.

  5. In 1981 when we arrived in Washington, DC a member of Adas Israel brought a message to me that Leo Freudberg wished to meet me. He was ailing and confined to his bedroom, and if I was alright with that we could meet in his room. Mr. Freudberg had been hearing good things about me and was always interested in the future.

    I found out that Mr. Freudberg had donated the large tract of land for Woodmont Country Club so that There was an outstanding club for people who mostly had been denied membership in area clubs which denied Jews membership.
    Based on Mr. Freudberg’s generosity I believe that he would recommend that the membership of Woodmont extend not only a generous lifetime membership but a sensational welcome to the President who has spoken at Adas Israel, visited Israel, supported Israel, and who embodies American ideals of brotherhood, justice and Rodef Shalom, the pursuit of peace. A man who has served his country.

    If the President and his family accept it would be a vindication of Leo Freudberg’s gift of the club to create a place of welcome, entertainment, and recreation which President Obsma and his family have earned through dedicated public service,
    I hope that the Obama’s would accept such an offer.

    (I am not a member of Woodmont)

  6. Idiotic. I’m against many of Obama’s policies at Israel. HOWEVER, invite him! How do you think he’ll learn about Israel, if he’s excluded??

    He matters. He will be powerful. Here’s a chance to extend a hand. Don’t bite it because he has been anti-Israel. Jews didn’t get where they are now by biting hands, but by outreach.


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