The inflammatory language by the Business Secretary came as his party announced it would block any further crackdowns on EU immigration.
The vow came just days after David Cameron pledged to veto countries joining the EU without reforms to tackle so-called "benefit tourism".
Mr Cable yesterday insisted a cap on European Union migrants was "not going to happen".
Referring to the infamous 1968 "rivers of blood" speech, which saw Powell sacked from the then Tory shadow cabinet, Mr Cable said politicians had a responsibility to "give the facts" and not "resort" to populist tactics.
Earlier, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg pledged to halt any new attempts to curb EU immigration, insisting "this is where we draw the line".
Mr Cable said in a television interview: "There is a bigger picture here. We periodically get these immigration panics in the UK. I remember going back to Enoch Powell and rivers of blood and all that. If you go back a century it was panics over Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.
"The responsibility of politicians in this situation is to try to reassure them and give the facts, not panic and resort to populist measures that do harm."
Asked if there was a crisis in the Coalition on the issue, he said: "There is quite a lot of tension around this."
He also warned his department was "dealing with some of the negative effects of discouraging overseas students".