Former president Barack Obama is welcome to tee off at the Woodmont Country Club whenever he likes, notwithstanding the Middle East policies of his just-ended administration.
That was the message Monday from the leadership of the predominantly Jewish club in the Washington suburb of Rockville, Md., where a nasty fight over whether to offer Obama membership spilled into public view this month.
Obama played at Woodmont on several occasions during his presidency and was said to enjoy its course.
But speculation about whether he would want to join for the 2½ years that he and his family plan to stay in the Washington area led to strong opposition from some members, who said they wanted to exclude him because of actions they considered hostile and damaging to Israel.
Those actions included, most recently, the Obama administration’s decision last month not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution criticizing Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Some members were also angered by Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s speech a few days later that accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of undermining prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by continuing to expand settlements.
In an email to members Monday, Woodmont President Barry Forman said that after “many hours in recent weeks considering this matter and the views of our members,” the club’s executive committee decided to invite Obama to join.
“Political views have never been part of our membership criteria, and our members have always reflected a range of opinions on issues of the day,” Forman wrote. “In the current, deeply polarized political environment, it is all the more important that Woodmont be a place where people of varying views and beliefs can enjoy fellowship and recreation in a relaxed environment.”
A spokesman for the former president could not immediately be reached.
Obama will be invited to become part of the club under the “special membership” provision of club bylaws, Forman said in the email, intended “as a means of welcoming very senior level government officials as Woodmont members.” That membership category waives the club’s $80,000 initiation fee, although Obama would still be on the hook for annual dues and assessments.
Woodmont was founded in the early 20th century by Jewish residents who were not welcome at other country clubs in the area. That legacy made the flap over admitting Obama, the nation’s first African American president, all the more embarrassing to some members.
“We are proud of our Jewish heritage, and we are also proud that our membership is now more diverse, which reflects significant changes in our society in recent years,” Forman wrote. “Given our legacy, it is regrettable that we have now been widely portrayed as unwelcoming and intolerant, because that is not who we are.”
Democratic activist Jeffrey Slavin, who resigned his membership over the issue and threatened a boycott of the club if Obama was not invited, said he was “really delighted” by the club’s decision.
Slavin, who is mayor of the town of Somerset in Montgomery County, declined to say whether he would rescind his resignation.
Forman’s email made it clear that the matter is still a sensitive one for club members.
“While we strongly believe this is the right decision, we understand it will be accompanied by continued discussion within our community,” he wrote. “So that we may find a way to learn from this, grow from this experience and move forward, the Club leadership intends to hold conversations within our community in the near future to further explore our history and common values.”