KISS frontman Gene Simmons, a.k.a. Chaim Witz, a.k.a. The Demon, a.k.a. Dr. Love, was in Toronto recently to perform at a sold-out gala for Technion Canada, a fundraising arm of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
The Israeli-born rockstar, who has a history of being outspoken on controversial topics, including terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is also a philanthropist and advocate of a number of charities, such as Childfund International. During his Toronto visit, Simmons took time to stop by DANI-Toronto, which provides services to adults with physical and mental disabilities, to spend time with the participants and pose for pictures. During his sit-down interview with The CJN at the June 4 Technovation gala, Simmons responded to the spate of terrorist attacks in the West and spoke about his connection to his motherland.
Why did you choose to lend your name to Technion?
If people don’t know, Google it. Technion Institute is actually one of the better things humanity has come up with. Large corporate entities create things like drug companies, or cures for this, or new technology, and then they hold onto it and charge a fortune to everyone else. So it’s good for mankind, I suppose, but it doesn’t improve people’s lives. The Technion Institute is actually at the forefront of technological advancements. People don’t know that the cellphone was invented in Israel and there are more college graduates per capita in Israel than in the history of humanity on earth. It’s an astonishing country.
Technion, actually, is also involved with other organizations that are not necessarily Jewish and shares the goods, tries to improve, educate, help and, in all other ways, advance what we as human beings experience. At the end of the day, if you really want to simplify it, we’re all just passing through. The older you get, the more of a wake-up call you get and I would like to think that you and I and everyone listening here will hopefully leave this place a better place than what we came into. Technion does.
Most people know that you’re Jewish and Israeli-born, but what compelled you to return to Israel, decades after you immigrated to the U.S.?
I got married to a Newfie… Shannon, and we have two kids, Nick and Sophie. We had a TV show, and Shannon said, your kids don’t know where you came from. You should go back and do it. And I hadn’t been back in 50 years. So we decided to bring the cameras and we went there. I had some unfinished emotional scars from my father and family and all that. He left us when I was very young and I’ve had to deal with that.
So we went and it was inspirational and also broke my heart because of how arrogant I was. I didn’t even go to my father’s funeral. So I had to deal with all that.
‘In America, there are almost 12 to 20-million illegal immigrants. I’m not giving you my opinion, but that is either going to continue, or it’s not’
Did it affect you in a way that surprised you when you went back?
Of course, of course. The first thing you realize is we’re in the 21st century and there is a country called Israel that is so young and it’s the most advanced country in the region. People are happy on one side of the wall, the Israeli side, where everyone gets along – Muslims, Christians, Jews, all denominations. The Baha’i faith headquarters, for God’s sake, is right inside Haifa.
You’ve been vocally supportive of Israel at a time when it’s not the most popular position to take – do you make a point of speaking out publicly in support of Israel?
Of course, you’ve got to be able to speak up. But I’ve got to tell you, if you speak up too much in different ways, it’ll turn people off. Eating good food is the right thing to do and it’s good for you if you want to help people, I understand that. But if you do that too much, they’ll get turned off and go and start eating starches and all that. It’s a strange reference point, but everyone’s lives are busy. The best way to bring it up is through decision-makers and influencers. On the street, you can argue with people who believe the Earth is flat, but you’re not going to change their minds. But they have no effect on things. Decision-makers and influencers, those are the people who need to be spoken to.
What are your thoughts on the climate in the U.S. right now under President Donald Trump’s leadership, as well as the recent terror attacks in the Western world?
It hasn’t been cropping up in America, it’s been cropping up in Europe. And the people of Europe and South America and, of course, the Middle East – the people who live in the countries where they elect officials, if they are lucky enough to be in a democratic system – have to decide for themselves what the immigration policy is. In America, there are almost 12 to 20-million illegal immigrants. I’m not giving you my opinion, but that is either going to continue, or it’s not. There is either going to be a ban on some countries and their immigration, or not. The people are going to have to decide. The Pope said something very astute. He said walls are inhumane and not nice, except the Vatican has a nice, big wall around it for the same reason. They want to keep people out. They don’t want everyone coming in. Isn’t that interesting? How about that?
How do you feel about the musical community coming together for the Manchester bombing benefit?
The musical community is great. We actually had to cancel in Manchester. We had a sold-out concert there (which was scheduled for May 30). The bomb went off and four days later, we were supposed to play, but police still had (the Manchester Arena) closed. It’s wonderful to see young artists get up on stage and do it anyway. This will not go away. These young, delusional, evil young men are going to continue doing this. There is no rehabilitation. There is no finding out why. There is only one answer (points his finger like a gun). Let them go and see what they’re going to do. What do you think is going to happen if you let them go?
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.