updated 8/2/2006 11:12:46 AM ET 2006-08-02T15:12:46

Guests: Joe Biden, Raoul Felder, Dennis Prager, Ben Ginsberg, Jenny Backus

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, killing fields—a U.S. soldier and over 70 people were killed today in Iraq as horrific violence takes hold of the country.  Has the country collapsed into a killing field?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Mike Barnicle in for Chris Matthews. 

While the eyes of the world stay focused on the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in the Middle East, a surge of violence has engulfed Iraq today, claiming the lives of a U.S. and British soldier, the Middle East, claiming the lives a U.S. soldier and British soldiers and more than 70 people. 

Bombings and shootings, some in broad daylight, have taken the war into the streets, indiscriminately killing innocent civilians but also targeting security forces.  Today‘s deadliest attack happened when a roadside bomb killed 20 Iraqi troops on a packed bus.  More on Iraq later. 

Plus, Israel and Hezbollah continue to fight in the Mideast with Israel expanding their offensive into Lebanon, meeting strong resistance from Hezbollah guerrillas.  We‘ll have live reports from NBC correspondents in the region. 

And has Mel Gibson turned into Mad Max?  The latest on the actor‘s arrest and reaction from the Jewish community. 

But first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster with the latest on the politics of the war in Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Just one week after President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki unveiled yet another security plan for Baghdad, the violence has turned even more horrific.  Today in Baghdad alone, more than 60 people were killed. 

Fourteen died after a car bomb exploded at a bank on payday for Iraqi security forces.  Twenty-four people were killed on a bus and across the region, there were more reports of roving death squads in broad daylight, continuing their torture and killing sprees.  At the Baghdad morgue, bodies are coming in faster than they can be identified. 

Attacks on U.S. soldiers are also on the rise, and with another 5,000 U.S. troops being redeployed to Baghdad, in Washington, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a rMD+IN_rMDNM_Vietnam veteran, is now calling Iraq an absolute replay of Vietnam. 

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA:  America is bogged down in Iraq, and this is limiting our diplomatic and military options.  The longer America remains in Iraq in its current capacity, the deeper the damage to our force structure, particularly the United States Army. 

SHUSTER:  Hagel is considering a run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.  Key congressional Democrats, meanwhile, are focused on the upcoming midterm elections.  They sent a letter to President Bush this week, urging him to begin a troop withdrawal by the end of the year. 

Quote, “In the interest of American national security, our troops and our taxpayers, the open-ended commitment in Iraq that you have embraced cannot and should not be sustained.  We need to take a new direction.” 

The 12 Democrats, led by House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, include those who voted for the Iraq war and those who voted against it.  And their letter may help make the election a choice between starting some kind of withdrawal, versus resisting any timetable whatsoever.  Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman says the Democratic position is “cut and run and will embolden the enemy.” 

The debate is bitterly dividing some Democratic primary voters.  Last week, embattled Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman reached out for help from former President Bill Clinton. 

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Go out and elect Joe Lieberman.  He‘s earned it.  He‘s been a good Democrat, he‘s a good man, and he‘ll do you proud. 

SHUSTER:  But the latest polling shows Lieberman still facing a statistical dead heat against anti-war challenger Ned Lamont. 

(on camera):  According to the most recent NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll, a clear majority of American voters want the U.S. to start withdrawing troops from Iraq, and voters say Iraq is their number one issue for the midterm elections in less than 100 days. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BARNICLE:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Senator Joe Biden of Delaware is one of the leading Democrats who signed the letter to President Bush, calling for a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq beginning by year‘s end.  He‘s also the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.  Senator Biden, why the letter now and why not more specific in terms of numbers? 

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS CMTE.:  Well, two reasons.  One, the military should come up with the numbers, Mike; and two, the reason for it now is the same resolution we tried to pass earlier, saying Mr. President, you‘ve got to do two things. 

You‘ve got to get this new government to get Sunni buy-in, you‘ve got to amend the constitution so they get a piece of the oil in order to stop the insurgency.  And number two, you‘ve got to purge the police of the sectarian hit squads that are there. 

And Mr. President, you said, and General Casey told me two weeks ago, Mike, or three weeks ago when I was in Baghdad with him, they planned on drawing down beginning of September.  We‘re becoming as much of the problem as we are the solution. 

BARNICLE:  Do you worry, Senator, that the letter, when Americans read about the letter in the newspapers and hear about it on TV shows like this, that there‘s a sense that this letter, signed by these Democrats, is more about the off year elections than it is about Iraq? 

BIDEN:  Well, I‘m not worried about that if they read the letter, and if they get a chance to talk about it like we are.  It‘s merely what the administration has already said they were going to do. 

They acknowledge that increased U.S. presence in the region is likely to be as much of a problem as it is a solution, that there needs to be a political solution by the Iraq government that‘s recently been elected, and that the United States of America has to begin to transfer that responsibility and authority over—maintaining the peace to the Iraqis. 

It‘s all what we‘ve been saying, as we‘re just basically saying Mr.  President, begin to implement what you said you were going to do.  You need a political solution. 

BARNICLE:  You were in Baghdad a couple of weeks ago? 

BIDEN:  I was.  I was back for my seventh time.  I guess—it was the Fourth of July weekend, Mike.  It was of the weekend after the Fourth of July, I should say.  I met with—I was in Basra, which is down in the south, the oil port.  I was also up in Baghdad. 

Then I was out in Fallujah with our marines, and then I flew out to a base in the middle of nowhere, which is called—it‘s an airstrip that is in the middle of nowhere, that we‘re probably going to be putting some troops there and I got to speak to a lot of our generals.  And they all—we asked Casey directly, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and I, what‘s your plan for draw down?  He said we‘re going to begin to draw down in September. 

He also told us General Dempsey, the person in charge of training Iraqi forces said that we have got a relatively well-trained Iraqi army, but we have to purge the police of the sectarian violence and they all said, no matter who we were talking to, that what the problem is, the great concern, is not the insurgency which is real, but a civil war, the Shia going after the Sunnis and vice versa, and our troops can‘t solve that for them. 

BARNICLE:  So your experience in Baghdad, having been there many tiles, the president‘s plan, the administration‘s plan to reinsert more troops, redeploy more troops into the city of Baghdad, what‘s your sense of what might happen, given the horrific violence that seems only to be on the increase, especially within the confines of Baghdad? 

BIDEN:  Mike, I hate to say this.  I don‘t think much more is going to get better in Baghdad, even with the reinsertion of a couple American brigades.  And the reason I say that, Mike, is that there is a need for a political solution. 

The only way you‘re going to get some change in the insurgency—that‘s the outfit, those guys coming out of Anbar province mainly, mostly Sunnis, the old Baathists—is you‘ve got to be able to give the Sunnis a piece of the action.  You have got to amend the constitution to guarantee them part of the oil revenue, which was the implicit promise when they voted on the constitution in December. 

And secondly, you‘ve got to get this new government and this new prime minister to sign on, and have enough nerve to take on al-Sadr, and the Mahdi militia that‘s significantly infiltrated the police forces, that are walking around in uniforms and acting as death squads.  You‘ve got to clean that up. 

Absent doing those two things, Michael, putting another 100,000 troops in Baghdad at this point isn‘t going to solve the problem. 

BARNICLE:  Senator Joe Biden, thanks very much. 

BIDEN:  Thank you.

BARNICLE:  Up next, we‘ll go to Israel and Lebanon for the latest on the fighting there, now into its third week. 

And later, actor Mel Gibson wants the Jewish community to help heal the pain he caused by making anti-Semitic remarks during a DUI arrest.  Is there any bouncing back from something like this?  That debate is coming up.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Lebanese security sources have told the “Associated Press” that a major Israeli operation involving helicopters is underway near the Lebanese town of Baalbek, a Hezbollah stronghold.  This comes on the heels of Israeli airstrikes today on at least five suspected positions in the Bekaa Valley.  NBC‘s Lester Holt is in Tyre, Lebanon with the latest.  Lester?

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Mike, good evening.  We‘ve got some rumblings about that possible helicopter operation earlier and then those reports began coming in not too long ago, regarding the insertion of troops by helicopter.

This is in the area of the Bekaa Valley, it‘s a major Hezbollah strong hold, always has been, and we know that Israeli warplanes for the last few days have been peppering sites around the area, hitting roads near the Syrian border and in fact, there were at least five F-16 strikes on Hezbollah targets in that area today.

So it‘s hard to tell the extent of what‘s happening in the Bekaa Valley, but that will bear watching in the hours to come.  In southern Lebanon, of course, we know the Israelis have broadened their offensive.  We saw it on many fronts today.  A top Israeli general now saying there are six major operations underway in the south, all involving brigade size units or larger.

A brigade is about 1,000 troops, so over 6,000 troops now on the ground here in southern Lebanon.  At the same time this evening, we saw Katyusha rockets fired from the area around us here in Tyre, Lebanon, fired in the direction of Israel and Israel also reported some Katyushas landing in the town of Matusa (ph). 

Whether those are one in the same of what we saw here, unclear.  But the Hezbollah had not gotten off many rockets today, up until those that were fired a little bit after sunset today.

Also, we were watching the movement of supplies into hard-hit areas in the south, the Israelis of course had staged that 48-hour pause in most aerial bombardment.  I underscore most aerial bombardment, the idea was to get aid convoys in.  Well the U.N. World Food Programme says that they were only able to get into one site today, they had planned three.  But that Israel had not guaranteed them safe passage. 

We are of course awaiting what happens tonight, as that 48-hour cessation in most aerial bombardment will end, and Israel has said it will go back to a full scale air campaign.  Airplanes have been used the last several days of course in areas where troops were engaged or where the Israelis thought there was an imminent launch of a missile about to take place. 

But they‘re going to go back to the full-scale bombardment and in the past, that meant very heavy bombing to the hills to the east of us.  All day long here, naval gunfire peppered Hezbollah sites here as well as our artillery from the ground and some of the biggest battles on the ground today were in the town of Aita Al-Shaab, that‘s an area where an Israeli tank was taken out. 

Three Israelis soldiers reported killed there, and then we saw a rather large offensive there as Israeli artillery pounded Hezbollah positions there.  And again, that‘s one of six places right now in the south that Israeli troops are on the move tonight, Mike, so we‘ll continue to watch and wait and see what the end of that 48-hour period will bring.

BARNICLE:  Lester, as you indicated, the end of the 48-hour intermittent cease-fire is about to elapse.  Do you have any sense of how many Lebanese civilians were able to take advantage of the intermittent cease fire to try and get north of the Litani River, the fire zone that is clearly going to be even more of a fire zone?

HOLT:  That‘s a good question.  I don‘t have any specific numbers.  Quite a few got out in some of these convoys over the last two days, but those of my colleagues who were in place its like Bint Jbeil today, which had seen the heaviest fighting in this conflict so far, said there were still people left there, trying to find a way out, trying to climb in trunks in some cases, and ambulances.  They were actually off-loading medicine, taking people in ambulances to get them out. 

A lot of folks still having a difficult time getting there, trying to  climb onto media vehicles.  The U.N. of course not the only operation here to extract people, but they had those major convoys and they expressed their frustration.  They put out a press release saying they weren‘t able to get to all the places they wanted to get to and as we speak right now, I can hear explosions in the hills a distance from us.  Perhaps an indication of what kind of night this will be.

BARNICLE:  Lester Holt, thanks very much in Tyre, Lebanon.  NBC‘s Peter Alexander is in Haifa, Israel—Peter.

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Mike, good evening to you.  As you heard Lester say, about 6,000 troops moved in, a strong assault on a wide range across southern Lebanon today, that is doubling the invasion force that had preceded it in the days leading up to this. 

This is a big battle of course between the ground forces and Hezbollah fighters, and it‘s a significant area, because it‘s commonly referred to as the step, the area of south Lebanon.  It rises there and it‘s an area that has heavy Hezbollah fortifications.  We‘re told there are bulldozers, dozens of them moving in with the IDF as well to try to clear out that area, to do as much as they can despite this fierce fighting.

As for those three soldiers, according to the Israeli army, they were in a house, not so much a tank, but in a house that was hit with anti-tank weapons.  That‘s where the three men died.  They are the first Israeli soldiers to die in fighting since earlier last week when nine soldiers were killed.  Here is the word from some of those soldiers on the front line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I know we have a very big responsibility on our shoulders, and the soldiers who died here, we should do whatever it takes, whatever we need to win this war, and to protect our citizens of our only country in this world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALEXANDER:  Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Mike, also spoke to—well he spoke specifically to some graduates at the national security college here in Israel, speaking to them about how Israel was winning this war and would win this war, but he did acknowledge, quote, “This is the beginning of a political process that could lead to a cease-fire.”

However, he says it‘s not in Israel‘s interest right now to introduce or to follow any specific cease-fire.  They say that they are knocking away at Hezbollah every single day, weakening them as each day goes by.  He also makes a significant acknowledgement, that they never promised that they would be able to get rid of all the rockets in Hezbollah‘s possession.

So far it appears according to U.S. intelligence sources that Israel has depleted 70 percent of the launchers for the long-range launches, the ones like the Zelzal rockets that could reach Tel Aviv and the medium-range ones, the ones that could reach closer to where we are in Haifa. 

It does not however say anything about the 10,000 Katyushas, short-range Katyusha rockets that have been raining down on northern Israel in the days that have passed.  Israel today announcing about 15 mortars and Katyusha strikes in northern Israel, but that is far fewer than the 100 this country had been averaging in the days that passed. 

For the most part, those are the headlines tonight, but there are more airstrikes and more fighting expected overnight.  We are now within one hour of the end of that temporary or partial cease-fire.  Mike?

BARNICLE:  NBC‘s Peter Alexander in Haifa.  Thanks very much. 

Up next, Mel Gibson apologizes for making anti-semitic remarks during a drunken driving arrest.  Is his career shot or can he bounce back?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Mel Gibson apologizes again.  Four days ago, cops arrested Gibson for drunk driving at which point he said the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.  He then proceeded to ask the police officer if he was a Jew.  Today, Gibson said he would like to meet with members of the Jewish community to lead him on the path to healing. 

Here to rip into this story is nationally syndicated radio talk show host Dennis Prager and attorney Raoul Felder.  Raoul, let‘s start with you if we could.  First of all, what‘s your sense of it.  Do you buy this story or do you think Mel Gibson might be on the verge of giving alcoholism a bad name?

RAOUL FELDER, ATTORNEY:  What did he do?  He had a conversation in the last two weeks, two days, like Paul on the road to Tarsus.  Sees the light of the lord and he changes?  No.  In vino veritas, and it‘s not in vino, a falsity.  I mean, the man spoke what was on his mind, his father was a Holocaust survivor, so I guess it‘s genetic, too.  So he‘s toast as far as I‘m concerned and I think as far as other Jews are concerned.

BARNICLE:  Dennis, what‘s your deal on this?  Where do you come in on this?

DENNIS PRAGER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well I‘m a Jew too, I‘m a religious Jew and Judaism tells me that if the human being is repentant, you work on his penitence and you try to convert an enemy into a friend.  It‘s basic Judaism and that is what on my radio talk show today, a Jewish star in Hollywood, Jason Alexander, called my show and said he agreed with me.  So this notion that Raoul Felder says Jews won‘t, if he‘s able to speak on behalf of six million Jews, he‘s an awesome creature.

FELDER:  Well, listen, let me tell you say this.  You know, any Jew who buys a ticket to his movies, ought to buy a ticket to see a psychiatrist.  I mean, what happened in the last two days that this man suddenly sought repentance?  What happened was this.  He saw he was going to lose a potential audience and he has a different rap now.  Anybody who believes that a sudden conversion took place is just silly here.

BARNICLE:  Dennis, you know, there is a school of thought here that the tequila, or whatever he was drinking in this case could well be a truth serum.  I mean, that this is who Mel Gibson really is.

PRAGER:  I believe that.  I believe it, too.  I believe that.  I believe that in wine there is truth.  I‘m not denying it at all. 

I‘m just saying that the man may actually be a penitent and that he might be fighting this anti-Semitic demon from his father, who denies the Holocaust and the Jewish community ought to be open to that fact.  We have real enemies who really want to annihilate the Jewish population and we ought to concentrate on them.

BARNICLE:  Raoul, what about that?  I mean, are we making too much of this because Mel Gibson is famous, he‘s an actor?

FELDER:  You know, unfortunately, actors and celebrities are into your bedroom more than your wife and your girlfriend sometimes, so they integrate themselves into American life and people give what they say more importance than it should be.

And he is a very prominent person, he—what would happen, let me suggest this to Mr. Prager.  What would happen if somebody made a remark about African-Americans and said they‘re responsible for all the killing in the world?  I don‘t think people would be so quickly to say, oh, maybe he‘s repentant, we‘re going to educate him, we‘re going to teach him 2,000 years of history.

PRAGER:  All I know—well, let me tell you, I wrote a piece in the “Wall Street Journal” a few years ago, entitled “Hillary Clinton is no anti-Semite.”  I came out on behalf of a person on the left, she had private remarks that were anti-semitic and I said then and I say now, you don‘t judge people by their private remarks, you judge them by their public remarks and by their actions.

FELDER:  And I naively thought private remarks reveal more about the people than what they say in the scripted public appearance.  This is what happened there.  This is what—this man had his hatred towards the Jews.  He said we caused people—all the wars, we‘re responsible for millions of people getting killed, and I don‘t know, Dennis, how you can just say well maybe he converted.

BARNICLE:  Dennis, aren‘t you basically excusing hypocrisy if it is your view that private remarks, you know, they‘re OK, but public remarks, you can be forgiven?

PRAGER:  Richard Nixon, to take another Jewish example, Richard Nixon...

FELDER:  He‘s Jewish?  I didn‘t know that.  We‘ve got enough troubles without him.

PRAGER:  ... The example is Jewish, not Nixon.  I‘m sure you understood that.  The example is that Richard Nixon spoke anti-semitic things in the White House privately and he saved Israel‘s life in the 1973 war.  That‘s a lot more important to me than if he had spoken nicely privately, and then stabbed Israel in the back with it needed him.

FELDER:  But how can you equate a movie star with a politician who has to answer to an electorate—please, let me finish.

PRAGER:  You asked me—I answered your question.

FELDER:  That has the power to do things.  This man doesn‘t have any power to help Israel.

PRAGER:  I answered your question on why it is that I don‘t take private remarks is the indication of a man.  I didn‘t compare Nixon and his power to Mr. Gibson and his power.  I answered your question.

BARNICLE:  Let me ask the both of you, Mr. Felder and Dennis Prager.  Let me ask you both of you and you can answer separately, please.  Do you think that Mel Gibson‘s remarks as widely reported and will be even more widely reported once the videotape from the Los Angeles County sheriff‘s department makes it on T.V., which is a certainty.  Do you think he will be hurt at the he box office in the great heartland of America if the movie is good enough?

FELDER:  Well, I mean, it would be sad if he‘s not hurt, I think.  If you could just divorce somebody‘s private beliefs and things like that from their art so to speak, that would be a sad thing.  George Bernard Shaw said show me the man and then tell me about his work.  It would be a sad commentary in America if that happened.

PRAGER:  I don‘t think if Mr. Felder is a classical music fan, but if you are sir, have you ever attended a Wagner opera?

FELDER:  No, I wouldn‘t go to Wagner, I wouldn‘t go to Richard Strauss either, by the way.

PRAGER:  Wagner—you wouldn‘t?  You would not see a Wagner opera?

FELDER:  No, I would not.  Richard Strauss was an anti-Semite. 

(CROSSTALK)

PRAGER:  Fair enough.  That‘s right and so was Wagner.

FELDER:  And I would not go to that.  Maybe you would, maybe it doesn‘t mean anything.  Six million people getting killed sometimes are backed by people who were enamored in that kind of music, sort of has some meaning to me.  Maybe it doesn‘t to you.

PRAGER:  Listen—oh, that‘s a stupid remark.

FELDER:  No, it‘s a stupid remark...

PRAGER:  ... I wrote a book on anti-Semitism, devoted my life to the Jewish people.  I‘ve been nominated to the Holocaust Council.  So why don‘t you shut up about whether or not I care about six million?  The cheap tricks don‘t work with me and my Jewish credentials are a lot more solid than yours.

BARNICLE:  All right, we‘ll be back with credentials, opera and a whole much more with Dennis Prager and Raoul Felder after this.  And tomorrow, the Reverend Al Sharpton is getting involved in the hottest Senate race in the country.  He‘s endorsed Joe Lieberman‘s anti-war challenger Ned Lamont in Connecticut and he‘ll be right here on HARDBALL to tell us why.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Mike Barnicle in for Chris Matthews, and we‘re talking about Mel Gibson with nationally-syndicated radio talk show host Dennis Prager, and attorney Raoul Felder.

Raoul, just for the purposes of this program now, you are invited to lead an intervention group with Mel Gibson to help the healing between Mel and the Jews.  What do you do? 

FELDER:  Well, give up very quickly, I‘ll tell you.  You‘re not going to change somebody‘s ingrained spirits, what they think in their hearts, what they‘ve been taught by their parents.  Maybe if he spends five or six years and does all kinds things and joins the organizations Mr. Prager says that he is, and he becomes a super Jew, maybe that would change him. 

Mr. Prager got very angry with me because he asked me a fair question, would I go see—would I go listen to this music.  This was the background music to the Nazi empire.  And I said no, and he got all excited and was explaining to me how he was a super Jew. 

You know, maybe it‘s like Paul under oath to Tarsus.  Maybe people convert.  Maybe you go to a psychiatrist for 40 years, you convert.  Maybe you have a change of heart.  I‘m a little bit of a pessimist.  I‘ve seen a lot of life, but maybe. 

Come back—I‘d tell Mel Gibson, come back in 20 years, let me see what kind of work you produce.  You remember that a lot of people felt that the “Passion of the Christ” was anti-Semitic.  I listened he to them, but it was a work art.  I mean, that was his perception.

BARNICLE:  Did you see it? 

FELDER:  No, because I accepted it, that it was a work of art and if people didn‘t like it, fine, that‘s OK.  But this is not that kind of thing, Mr. Prager.  This is a man who got drunk and spewed out, saying the Jews—they‘re responsible for every war, means probably 100 million people being killed in the history of mankind.  It‘s a terrible, terrible thing, and you know it.  You know it. 

(CROSSTALK)

PRAGER:  OK.  Can I get a chance here? 

BARNICLE:  Yes, go ahead.  Dennis Prager, go ahead.

PRAGER:  Yes, OK, first of all, thankfully, this is recorded, so people can see that I didn‘t get excited about the fact that Mr. Felder won‘t listen to Wagner.  I got excited about his charge that I don‘t care about the six million dying in the Holocaust.

FELDER:  No, I said ...

PRAGER:  It was a despicable, little low-life sort of attack.  That‘s what I got excited over.  I don‘t give a hoot if you listen to Wager or not.

FELDER:  Or if I listen to you.

PRAGER:  I simply wanted to make the point that there are—or if you listen to me, that is correct.  I‘m not sure you would follow all of my shows, but I would invite you to listen. 

In any event, Wagner was a despicable anti-Semite and he wrote great music, which is conducted by Jewish conductors like Daniel Barenboim and, in fact, every Jewish conductor conducts him.  People have been able to separate artists from art, otherwise we can‘t go to a Robert Redford movie.  Here‘s a man who goes and celebrates the dictator of Cuba constantly.  I go to Robert Redford movies.  I think Robert Redford‘s values are awful.

BARNICLE:  We‘re getting off the track here. 

(CROSSTALK)

PRAGER:  You asked the question would I go and I said no, you‘re welcome to go.  You‘re welcome to pay your $10 to hear the anti-Semitic music that was written by an anti-Semitic man.  God bless you if you want to do that.  That wasn‘t the question.  You asked me what I thought.

PRAGER:  No, I don‘t want to go.

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  Dennis Prager, how does Mel Gibson begin this healing process with the Jewish community? 

PRAGER:  That is right.  By acknowledging, which he did in his statement, and I don‘t know if it‘s sincere, but I don‘t know that it‘s insincere.  By acknowledging, number one, this is—Maimonides, the greatest Jewish thinker in Jewish history laid down the foundations for penitence. 

First, you acknowledge what you did is wrong.  He has done that.  Then you say you‘re sorry to the person that you have hurt.  He has done that.  Then you rectify what you have done that‘s wrong.  It doesn‘t mean you‘ve changed your heart. 

Frankly, I don‘t care about people‘s hearts.  I care about people‘s deeds.  If you hate me and don‘t touch me, that doesn‘t bother me.  If you love me and kill me like some spouses do to their spouses, then what‘s in their heart really isn‘t important.  God judges heart, men judge action. 

BARNICLE:  What is your sense of the business that Mel Gibson has been such a vital part for more than a few years.  If Maimonides was a movie producer and Mel Gibson he knew was still a bankable star, do you think Maimonides would book him or will there be, do you think, some sort of banishment of Mel Gibson in Hollywood? 

FELDER:  Are you talking to me? 

(CROSSTALK)

PRAGER:  Well, it depends if they judge him for his right wing Christianity, which is what they really can‘t stand, or they judge him on the basis of Judaism, which does say that people can, in fact, repent.  That‘s the question that will be for the Jews of Hollywood and elsewhere. 

Jason Alexander is a liberal Jew in Hollywood, called my show.  I didn‘t call him.  He called my show today—my radio talk show—and said, “Dennis, I agree with you, and we have to try to reach out if he is reaching out to us.” 

BARNICLE:  Raoul Felder, Mel Gibson, if he was reaching out to you as a Jew, you‘re just going to cast him aside?  You‘re not going to listen to him?

FELDER:  His problem is with the higher authority, not with me.  Mr.  Prager has to realize, or maybe he doesn‘t have to realize, that there‘s at least a coincidence in the fact that he repented after it was revealed to the whole world. 

You in turn, raise a very interesting question.  The Hollywood community, a great portion of it, is a liberal Jewish community.  How will they react?  I don‘t know.  It will be interesting for social scientists to see this. 

BARNICLE:  It will be interesting for social scientists and the rest of us to see how many people go to his movies.  I don‘t think he‘s going to be hurt at all at the box office, given how selfish and self-amused we are as Americans.  Your thoughts please, quickly, Dennis Prager? 

PRAGER:  Well, I think that he could be hit at the box office, but I do think that Americans are quick to forgive.  I, as a Jew, forgave Jesse Jackson who said “Hymietown.”  I do fight the Jews‘ enemies, but I don‘t want to make gratuitous enemies.  I fight the people of Hezbollah who announced that they wished to annihilate the Jews of Israel.  That‘s real; that‘s serious anti-Semitism.  That‘s not just anti-Zionism, that‘s Jew hatred at its core.  We have enemies.  I want to fight the big ones.  I would like to convert Mel Gibson, and I think it‘s doable. 

BARNICLE:  Dennis Prager and Raoul Felder, thanks very much.

FELDER:  Thank you.

BARNICLE:  Up next, the HARDBALLers will be here with much more on Mel Gibson‘s apology. 

Plus, whether the Democrats call for withdrawing troops from Iraq helps or hurts their chances of recapturing Congress this fall.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. Top Democrats are taking a united stand on Iraq, writing a letter to President Bush to bring the troops home.  More than 2,000 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq, and we have just learned that the nephew of Senator Max Baucus was killed in combat in Iraq during the weekend. 

Here now with us, the HARDBALLers, Republican attorney Ben Ginsberg and Democratic strategist Jenny Backus. 

Let‘s start with you, Ben Ginsberg.  The letter that the Democrats have written to the president of the United States, insisting that a withdrawal begin by the end of the year:  do you think—is it more about the congressional elections, or more about Dems coping, trying to find a policy? 

BEN GINSBERG, FRMR. BUSH-CHENEY ‘04 COUNSEL:  To ask the question is to answer it—yes, very much so.  It is a sort of a broad general letter, and if you‘re going to propose a specific policy, instead of electoral platitudes, you ought to start talking about how many troops and how soon and when, and then what Iraq looks like afterwards.  That‘s not what this is.  This is just another attempt to appeal to the sort of Net roots on the left. 

BARNICLE:  You‘re shaking your head. 

JENNY BACKUS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  No, first of all, I want to send

my personal condolences, knowing Senator Baucus, but also on behalf of

everybody out there who lost somebody this weekend in Iraq.  I think we all

and I think Ben would agree with me on that.  Our hearts go out to them.

That‘s the reason why I think you need to have leaders like Democrats standing up and saying enough is enough.  What this letter is, from the Democrats, is exactly what the American people are saying right now.  We‘re on the side of the American people.  They want us to start talking about getting out of Iraq.  They want us to start looking at options, they want the professionals, the people in the Army, in the Navy, the Air Force and the Pentagon to start coming up with some options. 

Right now, the choice is, the Republicans refuse to even discuss the fact that maybe we shouldn‘t be there, that maybe our soldiers, people like Senator Baucus‘ nephew, shouldn‘t be caught in the middle of a cross-fire in a civil war.  They lost 61 people today.  It‘s a civil war, and our soldiers are in the middle of it, and there doesn‘t seem to be a plan.

So this letter is a statement that says, No, it‘s not good enough to just stay there and let soldiers die.  We need a plan, we need to start bringing people home. 

GINSBERG:  Every death is tragic, and that‘s absolutely true, and our hearts go out to everyone who is killed in action.  Nonetheless, there are people who don‘t like us there.  There is a global war on terror and to just sort of say, we‘re going to leave, is I think the wrong policy.  But what I will give your folks credit for, is coming up with a real contrast.  If Americans see the global war on terror, as it‘s popping up in many different places, then they‘re going to vote Republican.  If indeed they want to cut and run, then they‘re going to go your folks. 

BACKUS:  But I think you have a different situation in Iraq right now.  I don‘t think you have the global war on terrorism right now.  Right now, Israel is fighting Hezbollah, that‘s part of the war on terrorism.  Our soldiers are getting killed in the crossfire between Shiites and Sunnis, against Iraqis fighting each other.  And civilians are getting killed.  That‘s not—and I think in some sense, us being there without any plan, without any investment in fixing the infrastructure, without any sort of long-range vision from this administration, has created more people who are angry at us.

So it‘s very dangerous to have 150,000 of our troops sitting there in the middle of a bunch of guys shooting at each other. 

BARNICLE:  Let me jump in here, Ben.  You used the phrase—it‘s kind of shop-worn now—the cut-and-run phrase. 

GINSBERG:  It is; I apologize for using it that way.

BARNICLE:  And yet, you know, the latest implementation of policy calls for the United States to redeploy troops from within Iraq, up to as many as 6500, I believe, within Baghdad.  Given the history of insurgencies, the way they operate, this is like, you know, the insurgents saying, This is what we want, bring them into Baghdad.  This is where we want them, so we can kill more Americans in a smaller geographic area.  Does that not concern you? 

GINSBERG:  Sure, the whole situation concerns me, and Republicans generally.  Nonetheless, the people on the ground who are charged with making the decisions believe that the way to deal with the global war on terror, as it is focused in Iraq, is to bring more troops into Baghdad.  That‘s the way to prosecute the war, that‘s the way to stop our enemies there.  That‘s a coherent policy, despite what Jenny wants to say, rhetorically.

BARNICLE:  Jenny, you either have a terrible tic or you‘re shaking your head again.

GINSBERG:  I bring that out in her.

BACKUS:  I‘m sorry.  He just inspires me.  Look, this is not the global war on terrorism; I think that‘s what‘s making me shake and probably making a lot of people in the country shake.  It‘s not the global war on terrorism.  And we on our, like, fourth iteration of a war in Iraq.

GINSBERG:  What do you want to do, pull everyone out tomorrow? 

BACKUS:  I want to start setting a timetable to bring our troops home.

GINSBERG:  How many troops and when?

BACKUS:  I was a supporter of the Kerry-Leahy-Feingold-Boxer amendment, which said we‘d try to get them all out by ‘07.

GINSBERG:  Which is to get them all out in 13 months.

BACKUS:  But I‘m happy that the Democrats have a united position that at least we are for considering taking troops out, and Republicans refuse to consider it. 

GINSBERG:  Your united position is not a position at all.

BACKUS:  It is a position.

GINSBERG:  It is a rhetorical platitude. 

BACKUS:  What‘s your position?  What‘s the Republican position?  Don‘t ever leave—is that your position? 

GINSBERG:  Of course, you work hard to prosecute the war, to get our enemies in Iraq.  It is tough, it is difficult, the president said it was going to be tough and difficult all the way along. 

BACKUS:  But you think that that‘s a policy, right now, to just keep doing what we‘re doing, letting 61 civilians die today, letting 4 or 5 Americans Marines—

GINSBERG:  Look, you just criticized the policy of bringing 6500 troops into Baghdad to try and get at the heart of the insurgency.  That‘s a policy. 

BACKUS:  Actually, I do criticize that policy.

BARNICLE:  Let me ask you as a Republican, what is Connecticut going to tell us about the war and the politics of Iraq, next Tuesday, Lieberman versus Lamont?  

GINSBERG:  Well, I‘m not sure that the 10 to 15 percent of the Connecticut electorate that‘s going to vote in a Democratic primary tells us much of anything at all.  I think there‘s a lesson in it, it is that the Democrat Party has become totally intolerant of views that don‘t meet its particular litmus test, and that Joe Lieberman, who has taken a principled stand that people may not lose, but has a long, long career—I don‘t agree with all his positions, but it is a principled stand.  I mean, Joe Lieberman, to look at his record, has been one of the real champions of civil rights.  Now over this one issue, some of the leaders of the civil rights community are going in to campaign for his opponent, essentially telling them that what you did for 24 years, helping our cause, doesn‘t matter so much. 

BACKUS:  Well, I think...

BARNICLE:  We‘ll be back with this.  Big news tonight, Ginsberg endorses Lieberman. 

GINSBERG:  I didn‘t say that.

BARNICLE:  We‘ll be back with Ben Ginsberg and Jenny Backus.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We are back with the Hardballers, Republican attorney Ben Ginsberg and Democratic strategist Jenny Backus.  And Jenny, you know, we owe you the comeback after Mr. Ginsberg endorsed Joe Lieberman in that last segment.

BACKUS:  I am still waiting for Lamont to call him.  No, I think, first of all, on the war, I think it‘s too simplistic to say that this race is resting solely on the war.  I think the war is a symbol.  And I think what‘s happening to Joe Lieberman...

BARNICLE:  A symbol of what? 

BACKUS:  It‘s a symbol of discontent with incumbents, and the fact that voters don‘t feel like the people that are supposed to be representing them in Washington are listening to them. 

I think that the people in Connecticut might have given Joe Lieberman more of a break earlier if he would have sort of come out and just sort of shown some of the humility and humor that I, having campaigned with him, have seen in 2000 and other times.  Instead, he was angry that his vote was questioned.  And you are getting tension between the people who elect an elected official and an elected official.  I think that‘s what it‘s about.

Now, to go further on the war, I think the lesson here is that Republican incumbents should be very nervous about the war as well, because there are people who are upset out there on it. 

I do agree that Joe Lieberman has got a great record on a lot of issues that I personally care about as a Democrat, but I think the lesson of this election across the board is, don‘t forget who you are there supposed to be serving, and if the voters think like you are out of touch and you‘re not in tune with what their views are, they are going to send you a message.  And that‘s why I think this race is so close.

BARNICLE:  You know, there is no easy way to segue into this, so we will use voter anger, and try to segue into any potential anger over Mel Gibson‘s comment. 

GINSBERG:  Road rage in the voting. 

BACKUS:  Mad Max. 

BARNICLE:  Mad Max, lethal weapon being his tongue or whatever.  Everybody in America has heard about it now, what Mel Gibson has said or is alleged to have said, actually. 

Do you think, Ben, that this has any impact on his career as a movie star?  Do you think people will stop going to his movie if it‘s a great movie because of what he said? 

GINSBERG:  Sadly, I doubt it.  I mean, I think any time there are statements like that, they are reprehensible and they—you—somebody ought to pay a price for making a statement like that and that sort of behavior when you hold yourself out as a very watched, almost an icon of the country.  It‘s deplorable.

BARNICLE:  Do you buy the theory, Jenny, that tequila or any adult beverage used to the maximum, the way it was apparently used in this case, is actually a truth serum? 

BACKUS:  I certainly do.  And I could tell you some stories, but...

GINSBERG:  I defer to the Democrats on that.  Sorry. 

BACKUS:  That‘s all right.  No, I do, I think it probably was a truth

serum.  I think the proof is in the pudding now for Mel Gibson.  I mean,

America loves a story of repentance.  They like a sinner who‘s fallen and -

and addressed their sin and moved on.  The president of the United States is a good example of that.  I mean, they like people who have learned from their mistakes and moved forward. 

Mel Gibson, I think that the jury is out.  I mean, the Jewish community all came out today and some of the other leading rabbis and said, you know, look, we will take you at the sincerity of your words.  The question is, when he gets out of rehab, is he going to do something about this?  If he isn‘t, then I think you are going to still have a lot of people who are upset. 

What he said—I mean, the problem in this country is he is a huge role model, and it took a little while to get the true, I think, concern and remorse about his remarks.  It took three news cycles and probably a couple of different drafts from his PR guy. 

BARNICLE:  Don‘t think that Ben missed your reference to President Bush and (inaudible) forgiveness.  I saw you, your eyes shot up. 

But also, the media coverage of it, my question to both of you would be, given the way we cover things in the media today, to the point of overkill in many, many cases, is there a backlash, a sympathetic, a potential sympathetic backlash for Mel Gibson here? 

GINSBERG:  Well, I think Jenny is right, that America does love someone who makes a mistake and then repents.  I am not sure that you get sympathy out of something quite like this.  I think the more real question is, does he suffer at the box office or not?  I am not sure you get sympathy for those sort of intemperate remarks.  If you are drunk and you get in a traffic accident, you might get sympathy when you pull yourself out.  I think remarks like that are hurtful and harmful, and I‘m not sure you get sympathy. 

BACKUS:  I actually agree with Ben.  I think that‘s a fair point to say that you don‘t get sympathy, but I do think that people might be more willing to go to his movies if they actually think he addressed some of those hurtful and hateful remarks, or contributed money, or donated money to a—you know, there is things that you can do.  Ben, you‘re probably aware of them, like I am, like PR sort of crisis management things that you can do to try to... 

BARNICLE:  What about—the smoking gun here, at least to me, not that it matters what it is to me, but it might be that no matter how drunk you are, when you get pulled over by a cop, your senses are, despite the distillation of liquor within you, you know it‘s a cop, you know you have been pulled over.  And the first question you would ask the cop is, are you a Jew?  I mean, that‘s sort of a tip-off that there might be something going on in Mel that he needs a lot of help. 

GINSBERG:  Needs some help, yes.

BACKUS:  I agree with that.  And I think—I just want to give kudos to the media.  I actually you guys have covered this appropriately.

BARNICLE:  Thank you for the kudos.  Thank you, Ben Ginsberg and Jenny Backus.  Tomorrow on HARDBALL, the Reverend Al Sharpton, who‘s endorsing Joe Lieberman‘s anti-war challenger Ned Lamont in the Connecticut Senate race.  Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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