Bernie Ecclestone has admitted that he was 'an idiot' for the misguided remarks he made that suggested tyrants Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein were 'strong leaders' able to 'command a lot of people' and 'get things done' – but the F1 commercial rights-holder is adamant that he will not step down in the wake of the international furore prompted by his comments.
Ecclestone was greeted with global condemnation for claiming that Hitler's undoing came when the Nazi leader 'got lost' during his dictatorship – during which six million Jews and other victims of his regime died in concentration camps – and denigrating the merits of democracy, describing the 2003 toppling of Hussein at the hands of Britain and the United States as 'terrible' in removing 'the only one who could control' Iraq [see separate story – click here
The Board of Deputies of British Jews responded in terming the 78-year-old billionaire's words 'bizarre', with Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle
, rebuking him as 'either an idiot or morally repulsive'. Labour MP Denis MacShane similarly reproached him for having displayed 'an ignorance of history', with Conservative counterpart John Whittingdale admitting to being 'appalled'.
Ecclestone, however, has since sought to play down what he said as 'all a big misunderstanding', blaming not The Times
– the newspaper in which the interview was published – but rather his own maladroitness in being so 'unwise [as] to articulate my points so badly that [they] should have been so widely misunderstood' and insisting that he is in no way 'an admirer of dictators, who rule by terror' [see separate story – click here
“It was never my intention to hurt the feelings of any community,” he urged in a subsequent interview with German newspaper Bild
. “Many people in my closest circle of friends are Jewish. Anyone who knows me knows that I would never attack a minority.
“In the interview we were talking about structures, and that it can sometimes be good to act and make strong decisions without reservation. I did not put Hitler forward as a positive example, but simply noted that, before his appalling crimes, he acted successfully against unemployment and the economic crisis.”
“I unreservedly apologise for the remarks I made regarding Hitler in a recent interview,” he added in an official statement. “I am extremely distressed and embarrassed that these remarks have been used as suggesting that I support Hitler or Saddam Hussein. I would never support such people.
“I should never have been so foolish as to have been drawn into discussing these people but the fault was entirely mine, which I deeply regret.”
There have been repeated whispers – always denied by Ecclestone – that he is himself Jewish, and he argued in an apologetic interview with the Jewish Community Online
that his remarks had been misconstrued, in that following a discussion about how difficult it is to make democracy adequately work, he had been asked for his views on dictators and Hitler. He also confessed to having been horrified at what he saw at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.