Former international development minister Sir Desmond Swayne has been accused of making disgraceful comments after comparing Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories to apartheid South Africa.

Sir Desmond said Palestinians are being barred from walking certain streets in the city of Hebron, where tensions and violence have flared up over the past year.

Around 1,000 Jewish settlers live in heavily fortified parts of the city and the Israeli government has announced plans to expand the settlements.

Speaking during Foreign Office questions in the Commons, Sir Desmond asked minister Tobias Ellwood: “Has he walked the streets of Hebron, which Palestinians may not use? We used to call that apartheid.”

But his remarks sparked an angry response from Labour MP Ian Austin (Dudley North), who said it was “an insult” to Israel and the black South Africans who suffered under apartheid.

He said: “In South Africa, black people were not able to vote, all political opposition was outlawed, different races couldn’t even get married.

Ian Austin

Ian Austin

“In Israel, there is freedom of movement, assembly and speech, all governmental institutions are integrated, all citizens can vote.

“So is it not a complete disgrace, an insult to the Middle East’s only democracy and the black people who suffered under apartheid, to hear Israel described as apartheid, as we heard a former minister do so this afternoon?”

Mr Ellwood said the British Government “is supportive” of Israel and South Africa.

He said: “In the case of Israel, it is a democratic country in a very tough neighbourhood, and Britain stands by our friendship. We are an ally of Israel and long may that continue.”