TORONTO - The Canadian government has consistently stood by Israel - even when it wasn't popular to do so - and will continue to support the Jewish community in the future, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday night at an event to commemorate Israel's 60th anniversary.

Any militant groups that threaten Israel and its right to exist also threaten Canada, Harper said to a standing ovation, one of several that he received from a crowd of about 7,000 at a hockey arena in Toronto.

"As the last world war showed, hate-fuelled bigotry against some is ultimately a threat to us all and must be addressed wherever it may lurk," he said during a 10-minute speech.

"In this ongoing battle, Canada stands side by side with the state of Israel, our friend and ally in the democratic family of nations."

Earlier in the day, Palestinian-Canadians said the anniversary celebrations were an insult to the millions of Palestinians living in exile or as refugees.

They said they would be marking "al Nakba" - the catastrophe - to remind Canadians of their plight.

"The uprooting of a whole people from their homes in Palestine in 1948 by a carefully executed and externally supported plan is unprecedented in modern history," said Dr. Farid Ayad, president of Palestine House.

"The inhabitants of 531 towns and villages were forcibly evicted from their homes by the Zionist forces."

Harper did say that he and everyone hopes that Israelis and Palestinians can one day live in peace.

"Let us resolve as Canadians to do whatever we can to support Israelis and their neighbours in their quest for a better future," he said.

Harper has lent his support to Israel in the past and in July 2006 said the nation had a right to defend itself after military incursions into Lebanon.

The Israeli military was responding to rocket attacks by Hezbollah militants and the kidnapping of two of its soldiers and its actions "under the circumstances has been measured," Harper said at the time.

But those comments outraged members of Canada's Arab communities who called Harper's support for Israel "hostile."

A dinner event that Public Security Minister Stockwell Day had been invited to was cancelled in an act of protest.

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