TORONTO – Canada is a strong ally of Israel, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, but he warned the quest for peace will not come without heavy security to defend Israel’s borders.
“The people of Israel are prepared to make compromises for peace, but they are not — and I am not — prepared to make any compromises on our security,” the Israeli prime minister told thousands gathered in Toronto for the annual Walk with Israel.
Any future Palestinian state must be “effectively demilitarized,” and Israel must take action on Iran and its nuclear ambitions, he said.
“When Israel left Lebanon, Iran moved in,” Netanyahu said.
“When Israel left Gaza, Iran moved in again. We cannot afford to have that mistake repeated with the same consequences a third time. We cannot afford a third Iranian presence in the hills overlooking Tel Aviv.”
It was the first time since 1978 that a sitting Israeli prime minister has addressed the Toronto-area’s Jewish community.
The ties between Canada and Israel have never been stronger and the two countries share many values, Netanyahu told those set to participate in the walk.
“You march against those who hate freedom and celebrate death and you march for those who cherish freedom and celebrate life,” he said.
“You march for the Jewish people of Israel, who have yearned for peace…You march against terrorists who target civilians and you march for an army that targets terrorists. You march against tyrannies that repress women, gays, minorities, who murder their own people.”
The walk, held by the United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto, raised an estimated $350,000 for the children of Bat Yam, a struggling community where many Ethiopians have settled and are striving to integrate into Israeli society.
As thousands cheered for Netanyahu’s rousing speech, jumping to their feet for standing ovations or stomping on the bleachers inside Exhibition Place to create thunderous support, hundreds outside protested the event.
They gathered to voice their support for Palestinians and stood behind a banner reading “War Criminals Not Welcome Here.”
In 2002, organizers had to cancel a Netanyahu speech at Montreal’s Concordia University after an angry reaction from students and activists.
Police on foot, bicycles and horseback were on the scene to maintain security, and inside the security presence was massive. Dozens, if not hundreds of police officers and private security were on hand.
Netanyahu delivered his speech — which started nearly 90 minutes late — behind protective glass and marchers had to pass through metal detectors and have their bags searched.
Netanyahu thanked Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whom he called an “unwavering friend of Israel,” for Canada’s strong support for the Jewish state.
Federal, provincial and local politicians of all stripes attended the event in support of Israel.
Peter Kent, minister of state of foreign affairs (Americas), said, “when faced by those who seek to wipe both it and the Jewish people from the face of the Earth, Israel can always count on our unequivocal support.”
Toronto city councillor and mayoral candidate Rob Ford yelled, “Israel rules.”
The walk’s organizers presented Netanyahu and his wife with Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys for them and their sons, and Netanyahu asked if on his next visit they could arrange to take him to a hockey game.
After the speech Netanyahu was to be whisked off to Ottawa, where he will hold a bilateral meeting Monday with Harper.