Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a crowd of supporters in Toronto that ties between Canada and his country are stronger than ever, while protesters concerned with Palestinian rights gathered nearby to criticize his policies.

Netanyahu spoke to a crowd of thousands, which had assembled to take part in the Walk with Israel, an annual event in the city.

"I came here with one simple message: march with pride, march with clarity, because you cannot be prouder and clearer about what you're marching against and what you're marching for," said Netanyahu, who received a standing ovation.

He said that Canada and Israel share many values, and thanked Prime Minister Stephen Harper, calling him an "unwavering friend of Israel" for supporting his country.

Meanwhile outside the venue, hundreds of protesters stood beneath a banner that read: "War Criminals Not Welcome Here."

"Come on, change your mind for once -- and give the Palestinians the rights to live as human beings," said Farid Ayad, president of Palestinian House, a cultural centre.

Security was tight for the event. There was a large police presence and those who attended Netanyahu's speech passed through metal detectors.

"We must ensure that any future Palestinian state is effectively demilitarized," Netanyahu said of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. "Effectively demilitarized doesn't just mean a paper agreement -- we've had a lot of agreements."

"The Palestinians will have to recognize the Jewish state," he added.

It was the first time in more than three decades that an Israeli prime minister has addressed Toronto's sizeable Jewish community.

The march was organized by the United Jewish Appeal to raise funds for children living in Bat Yam, a community where many Ethiopians have settled.

The Israeli leader will travel to Ottawa next. He is scheduled to meet with Harper on Monday.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Natalie Johnson and files from The Canadian Press