Dr James Orr spoke at the National Conservatism Conference in MayEdmund Burke Foundation with permission for Varsity

Comments by a Divinity professor have been called “racist” and “dehumanising” towards Arabs and Palestinians, with student societies demanding the university “take action” on the matter.

Dr James Orr, an academic at the Faculty of Divinity, responded to a video of pro-Palestinian demonstrations in London, which showed Muslim protestors praying, by stating: “Import the Arab World, become the Arab World”.

His comments were slammed as “obviously racist” by Cambridge’s Middle Eastern North African Society (MenaSoc) and Palestine Solidarity Society (PalSoc), who questioned “how are Arabs and Palestinians meant to feel safe when such hatred is being incited?”

A member of the Divinity Faculty spoke to Varsity on the condition of anonymity, stating “this clearly falls well short of the standards expected of an academic at a public university.”

“But it falls especially short of an academic in a Religious Studies department, with members of varying ethnicities and religious affiliations”, they continued.

“It is unthinkable that Orr can continue to enjoy the confidence of students and colleagues to teach, examine and collaborate without discrimination”, the anonymous academic added.

Orr made the comments after Saturday’s unprecedented attack launched by Hamas, a Palestinian organisation of Islamist militants, which saw the killing of at least 1200 people in Israel.

Tweeting on Monday evening, his comments came as Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant announced a “complete siege” of Gaza, cutting off food, fuel, electricity and water.

Cahir O’Kane, a professor of genetics at the university, tweeted in response, stating Orr could have “responded to the shocking Hamas atrocities in any number of reasonable ways” but instead chose “a derogatory and racist comment that targets Arabs”.

MenaSoc and PalSoc described Orr’s comments as an example of “the dehumanisation of Palestinians in order to facilitate acceptance of the mass atrocity that has begun against Gazans”.

Since the Hamas attacks, Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 1100 Palestinians, in a response that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said has “only just begun”.

Hamas is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the United States, the EU and the UK, as well as other powers, although this is sometimes only the case for its military wing.


Mountain View

University releases response to Israel-Gaza attacks

“This [dehumanisation] process occurs before any mass atrocity”, MenaSoc and PalSoc continued, demanding the university “not indulge in such narratives” and “take action to create a safer environment for Arab and Palestinian students.”

Orr has been influential in national politics in recent months, playing a leading role at the controversial ‘National Conservatism Conference’ in May, which gathered influential figures from the right-wing of the Conservative party. 

The National Conservatism movement describes its purpose as "reconsolidating the rich tradition of national conservative thought as an intellectually serious alternative to the excesses of purist libertarianism, and in stark opposition to political theories grounded in race."

Orr has been at the centre of student backlash in the past, with criticism being levelled at him for his alleged links to Republican billionaire Peter Thiel and his controversial invitation of Jordan Peterson to Cambridge.