Club Built for Jews Extends Invite to Obama Despite Anger Over Israel Policy

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U.S. President Barack Obama plays a shot to the 18th green as he finishes a round of golf with friends at the Mid-Pacific Country Club in Kailua, Hawaii, December 28, 2015.
U.S. President Barack Obama plays a shot to the 18th green as he finishes a round of golf with friends at the Mid-Pacific Country Club in Kailua, Hawaii, December 28, 2015.Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Former U.S. President Barack Obama has been offered special membership at the high-end Woodmont Country Club despite the resistance of many of its Jewish golfing members who took issue with his policies on Israel during his two terms as president, according to a New York Times report.

According to the report, the club's management sent a letter to its members on Monday informing them that Obama and former first lady Michelle had been offered a deal as "special members," waiving a $80,000 initiation fee required from most new members.

"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," The New York Times quoted the letter from club president Barry Forman as saying.

A controversy over offering the Obama's a place in the club began in early January, just over a week before he left office. According to a New York Post report at the time, the club outside Washington D.C., which was founded in 1913 for Jews who were banned from other clubs for being Jewish, had already offered Obama the exclusive deal, but opposition from among the other members was giving management cause to reconsider.

"Can you imagine how angry I would be if I had paid $80,000 to have to look at this guy who has done more to damage Israel than any president in American history?" an official from a Jewish organization in Washington told the Post.

Anger among club members was apparently fueled by Obama's decision to abstain from a recent vote in the UN Security Council condemning the construction of settlements in the West Bank.

Obama also had has his supporters among the club's membership however, with Jeffrey Slavin, mayor of the Montgomery County town of Somerset, resigning from the club over the issue. "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," Slavin wrote in an email to the club's general manager, published by the Washington Post.

Forman said in his letter that the decision to extend an invitation to the Obamas was made after lengthy discussions that concluded in noting the club's history of offering a place for Jews to play golf despite discrimination elsewhere, and its growing diversity ever since. 

"Given our legacy," he wrote, "it is regrettable that we have now been portrayed as unwelcoming and intolerant, because that is not who we are."

According to the New York Times, the former president has not applied for membership and had not indicated that he intended to do so, though, during his tenure in the White House, he told friends that Woodmont could be his club of choice after leaving office.

Under the deal offered to him, Obama would still have to play annual fees of $9,600 to the country club.

Obama first golfed at Woodmont in 2015 with member Thomas R. Nides, a former deputy secretary of state, John Shulman, the head of a private equity firm and one of the president's personal aides.

"This whole issue is ridiculous," Nides told the New York Times. "The only thing the guy wants to do is to play golf."

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