Kiss Lead Singer Gene Simmons Slams Israel Boycotters

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Kiss' Israeli-born lead singer Gene Simmons shouted out on Tuesday at the string of musicians who have refused to perform in Israel, saying they were fools.

The legendary bassist spoke to The Associated Press in Jerusalem on Tuesday, after he arrived in Israel for what he described as an emotional homecoming.

Musician Gene Simmons during an interview with The Associated Press in Jerusalem, Tuesday, March 22, 2011. Credit: AP

"I'm Israeli. I'm a stranger in America. I'm an outsider," he said, speaking in a hotel lobby across a valley from the walls of Jerusalem's historic Old City. "I was born here and I'm proud of it."

He said artists who avoid Israel - such as Elvis Costello, the Pixies and Roger Waters, who joined the movement after appearing in Israel in 2006 - would be better served directing their anger at Arab dictators.

"The countries they should be boycotting are the same countries that the populations are rebelling," he said. "People long to be free ... And they sure as hell don't want somebody who's a ruler who hasn't been elected by them."

Simmons was making his first return to Israel since he left the country as a child more than 50 years ago.

The rock band Kiss had a string of wildly successful albums in the 1970s and 80s.

Earlier this month, Roger Waters, founding member, vocalist and bassist of the iconic rock band 'Pink Floyd' voiced his support for a cultural boycott of Israel.

The British musician performed in Israel in 2005, ignoring calls from Palestinian rights advocates to cancel. While in Israel, Waters visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

He was taken to the controversial separation fence in the West Bank, which he called "an appalling edifice to behold."

Waters said he was extremely affected by his tour of the West Bank, scrawling "We dont need no thought control", lyrics from one of Pink Floyd's most popular songs, on the wall, and cancelling his performance in Tel Aviv. Instead, the British star held the concert in Neve Shalom, a cooperative village founded by Jews and Arabs.

In February, American folk music legend Pete Seeger officially joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign - an international movement to pressure and sanction Israel through economic means.

Artists, academics and celebrities throughout the world have supported and participated in the cultural boycotting of Israel.

Earlier this year, French pop star Vanessa Paradis cancelled her concert in Israel only a month before she was supposed to arrive in the country with her partner, Hollywood actor Johnny Depp, leaving fans and pundits speculating as to the reasons for the cancellation.

Israel is still my home

Simmons, 61, is visiting Israel as part of his reality show, "Gene Simmons Family Jewels," which follows the adventures and musings of the rocker, his longtime girlfriend, Shannon Tweed, and their two children.

While situations on the show are generally lighthearted, he said his stop in Israel has deep personal significance. "Coming back to Israel is a homecoming," he said.

Simmons was born Chaim Witz and spent his childhood in northern Israel before moving to America. The normally extravagant musician, known for his extended tongue, demonic makeup and stage pyrotechnics, grew subdued as he described his early life in the hardscrabble town of Tirat Carmel.

He recalled his father, a carpenter, taking his assault rifle and heading off to military service on weekends. He said his mother, a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, taught him that "every day above ground is a good day."

The family was "dirt poor," scraping by on meager bread and milk rations available in what was then an underdeveloped country. He earned money by selling fruits he collected from cactuses.

Simmons moved with his mother to the United States when he was eight. Although he has climbed to the highest levels of the entertainment world and lives with a former Playboy Playmate of the Year in Beverly Hills, he said he still considers Israel his home.

Simmons, wearing dark sunglasses and black pants, shirt and blazer, laced the interview with Hebrew phrases. "Where were you born?" he asked in somewhat halting but serviceable Hebrew.

He made local headlines during Israel's 2006 war against Lebanese guerrillas by sending a televised message to a wounded Israeli soldier, calling him a "hero."

Simmons co-founded Kiss in the 1970s and became famous for wearing white and black face makeup, spitting fire and coughing up fake blood at sold-out performances.

The group has sold some 100 million records, and four decades later, it remains one of the best-selling concert draws.

Simmons also presides over a business empire that includes his reality show, TV, game show and movie appearances, video games, books, comics and a Kiss credit card. His net worth is estimated to be in the tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of dollars.

Simmons insisted that his busy schedule has been the only reason he never made it back to Israel before.

"America allowed me to climb the highest levels of success, and I never wanted to stop. When you reach the top, you can rest," he said.