Visiting Palestinian-American academic Professor Saree Makdisi said last night that Israel was an apartheid state that was more extreme in its policy against Palestinians than South Africa had been against its black population.
Under the form of apartheid once practised in South Africa, blacks were not pushed out, because the state needed their labour, he said.
"Black bodies were needed to nurse white children, to clean white homes, to labour in white industry," he said.
"Israel, on the other hand, can hermetically try to separate itself from Palestinians because Palestinian labour (from the occupied territories) is now irrelevant to the Israeli economy, having been replaced in the 1990s by a new wave of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, topped up by cheap labour from South-East Asia and eastern Europe."
Delivering the Edward Said memorial lecture at Melbourne University last night, he said Palestinians who lived in Israel as citizens were denied the same rights as Jewish citizens of the state, while new construction was used to eradicate reminders of their continuing presence within Israel.
This includes "refusing to officially recognise the existence of dozens of Palestinian villages inside Israel and hence denying their populations state services and cutting them off from state infrastructure".
Professor Makdisi, the nephew of the Palestinian author Edward Said, said their presence had also been erased through the construction on hundreds of sites that were once Muslim graveyards of roads, farming or building institutions and residential buildings.
Professor Makdisi said the Palestinian presence was a threat to Israel's claim to an exclusively Jewish identity and Israel denied Palestinians their identity by referring to them as Israeli Arabs.