Anger at the Obama administration’s actions toward Israel has triggered a nasty fight at a predominantly Jewish country club in the Washington suburbs over whether to offer a membership to the president after he leaves office.
Some members of the Woodmont Country Club, in Rockville, Md., are furious about President Obama’s decision last month not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution that criticized Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Those members were further incensed by Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s speech five days later accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of undermining the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by continuing to expand settlements.
The actions, which came as the incoming Trump administration was indicating that it would break with past U.S. policy to strongly support settlements, deepened a bitter divide among American Jews over whether Obama is a friend of the Jewish state.
Woodmont members were reluctant to discuss the matter publicly. But a string of scorching emails to the club president, Barry Forman, made available for The Washington Post’s review by a person with close ties to club members, captured the anger at Obama, who has initiated more extensive military cooperation with Israel than any of his predecessors but has also been more willing to openly criticize Israeli government decisions.
The president “has created a situation in the world where Israel’s very existence is weakened and possibly threatened,” longtime member Faith Goldstein wrote on Dec. 26. “He is not welcome at Woodmont.”
Reached by phone this week, Goldstein declined to discuss her email or the dispute, calling it “a family quarrel and no one’s business.”
Other Woodmont members, including Democratic activist Jeffrey Slavin, have made clear that they support the president’s Middle East policies and would welcome his membership.
“At this time it is my hope that you will take action immediately to erase this emerging stain on The Club’s stellar reputation,” Slavin wrote in a letter to Forman this week that threatened a mass membership-cancellation campaign if the anti-Obama effort continued.
Slavin, a lifelong member of Woodmont whose father was a member as well, wrote that “the folks opposed to President Obama’s membership should be ashamed of themselves.” His letter was copied to like-minded Woodmont members and to local Jewish leaders.
Forman declined to discuss the dispute, which was first reported in the New York Post.
There has been no official indication that Obama, who as president has done most of his golfing at Joint Base Andrews, has even sought a membership at Woodmont.
But the 44th president has played at least four times at the lush enclave off Rockville Pike, and Politico reported last summer that Woodmont was seen as his likely golf course of choice once he returned to private life.
The White House did not return emails about the matter.
With an $80,000 membership initiation fee and $9,600 in annual dues, Woodmont’s 460 acres offer members an opportunity to golf, play tennis, swim and socialize just a few miles from downtown Washington.
After Politico floated the possibility of Obama becoming a member, the Jewish newspaper The Forward followed with a story headlined: “Will Barack Obama Join Jewiest Country Club in Washington?”
Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, was quoted in the July story as saying: “How cool is it that the first African American president of the United States may well be joining a country club originally established because Jews couldn’t get in anywhere else?”
Halber, who is not a Woodmont member, declined to comment on the opposition to the idea.
The emails among members shared with The Post included a Dec. 15 message from Bethesda lawyer Marc B. Abrams, who wrote that Forman had mentioned the possibility of Obama joining Woodmont. Abrams added that the president’s stance on Israel should make it “inconceivable” that club leaders would entertain such an idea.
“If you have views on this matter, I would urge you to make them known quickly,” Abrams wrote. “Timing is critical.”
Abrams did not respond to interview requests.
Simon Atlas, a former chairman of the club’s admissions committee, said in an interview that he would be “honored” to have Obama as a member. He added that the club had never applied a political test for acceptance.
“A person’s political affiliation was never a consideration,” said Atlas, former treasurer of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. “We looked at [a person’s] philanthropy, at standing in the community, at reputation. These other things never came up.”
Correction: Earier versions of this article misstated the number of days between the U.N. Security Council Resolution and Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech. It was five days. The article has been corrected.