The BBC says it ‘utterly condemned’ online claims that a University Challenge team’s blue octopus mascot was an anti-Semitic symbol.
A row broke out on social media over the object, as some viewers believed the toy was a reference to the ‘anti-Semitic trope’ for an imaginary worldwide Jewish conspiracy.
The BBC said the mascot was meant to represent one of the team’s favourite animals and many people online felt its inclusion on the panel was entirely innocent, as the connotations of the blue octopus as anti-Semitic imagery are not well-known.
The octopus was on display for the whole episode, filmed in March 2023, as the group of students beat Emmanuel College from Cambridge by 155 points to 130, and was not mentioned by presenter Amol Rajan.
Christ Church from Oxford University appeared on last night’s of the popular BBC Two quiz show with the mascot on their desk in full view of the audience
The octopus was on display for the whole episode, as the college beat Emmanuel College from Cambridge by 155 points to 130
Some viewers believed the toy was a reference to the ‘anti-Semitic trope’ for an imaginary worldwide Jewish conspiracy
Teams on University Challenge are encouraged by the show to bring along a lucky mascot to perch on the desk in front of them and have done since its inception in 1962.
The soft animal toy had not been the mascot for the college’s first appearance on the show back in August, when they beat Southampton University.
The blue octopus symbol is linked back to anti-Semitic propaganda cartoon by one of Nazi Germany’s most famous cartoonists Seppla (Josef Plank) showed Winston Churchill as an octopus in a cartoon warning of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.
The cartoon depicts an octopus with a Star of David over its head and tentacles encompassing a globe.
Greta Thunberg recently deleted a pro-Palestine social media post after critics claimed a stuffed octopus in the photo could be viewed as an ‘anti-Semitic’ symbol – with the activist saying the toy helps with her autism.
Ms Thunberg deleted the original photo and replaced it with one showing the octopus cropped out.
The BBC also moved to shut down further online chatter that one of the competitors was wearing a top in the colours of the Palestinian flag.
The national broadcaster said the jacket worn by Melika Gorgianeh – an Astrophysics DPhil student – was navy blue, orange, pink and green.
The company said it was bought from a High Street retailer and had no connection to any flag.
The jacket worn by Melika Gorgianeh – an Astrophysics DPhil student – was navy blue, orange, pink and green
Ben Obese-Jecty, a parliamentary candidate for Huntingdon, posted on X: ‘This is disgraceful from the BBC. How on earth was @ChCh_Oxford allowed to have a blue octopus, a well-known antisemitic trope, on display as a mascot on #UniversityChallenge? How did @amolrajan fail to notice it?’
Another X user wrote: ‘Anti-Semitic trope proudly on display here. Anti-Semitic propaganda during 19th/20th Century often used octopus imagery to represent Jewish influence & control. I struggle to believe in the current climate this is a coincidence. BBC has serious questions to answer.’
A third person added: ‘Christ Church Oxford has a long history and many symbols/mascots however I can find no reference to the anti-Semitic blue octopus symbol. I can only imagine therefore that @BBC were happy to approve this blatant display.’
A fourth posted: ‘University Challenge. The Palestinian flag colours worn by one contestant – unintentional? The octopus mascot – is that just a coincidence?’
Others rejected the claims, with one person writing: ‘So now a cuddly toy octopus is automatically interpreted as anti-Semitic? Does this mean the production of cuddly toy octopuses should be banned? Wtf is wrong with people? Until the Greta pic a month ago no one thought that octopuses were an anti-Semitic trope.’
Another said: ‘I criticised Greta’s octopus, and I am not Jewish so don’t get to decide this, but it will take a lot to convince me that a team from an Oxford college on an episode of University Challenge that was filmed months ago were being anti-Semitic by displaying a toy octopus.’
A third person backed up this argument, saying: ‘The notion that a University Challenge team would bring a toy octopus as a mascot *on the BBC*, and actually it’s some secret anti-Semitic Nazi messaging, is just so laughable and absurd. People go out of their way to be offended, convinced everyone is against them.’
The BBC told the MailOnline it was aware of ‘inaccurate claims’ being made online in regards to the episode and ‘utterly condemned the abuse that has been posted and shared’.
A spokesman for the broadcaster said: ‘We are aware of a number of inaccurate claims being made online in relation to last night’s episode of University Challenge and we utterly condemn the abuse that has been posted and shared.
‘For the avoidance of doubt, this episode was filmed in March. The mascot is one of many chosen by the team during the course of the series and is one of their favourite animals.’
Christ Church have been approached for comment.