The BBC has slammed ‘inaccurate assertions’ after being accused of promoting an anti-Semitic cliché during Monday’s University Challenge show.
The BBC One quiz show, which saw Amol Rajan take over as host from Jeremy Paxman earlier this year, aired this week with a pre-recorded episode from March, while the competition’s second round progressed.
Christ Church College, Oxford, battled against Emmanuel College, Cambridge, for a position in the quarter-finals, however one of the mascots placed on the panel diverted spectators from the questions.
Oxford’s mascot was a green Octopus, which replaced their previous mascot from an earlier round versus Southampton.
The new mascot sparked outrage online, with viewers accusing University Challenge of promoting an offensive antisemitic trope found in early 20th century Nazi propaganda, after a German cartoonist depicted Winston Churchill as a blue octopus with a Star of David above its head and tentacles encompassing a globe, warning of a fictitious global Jewish conspiracy.
Some viewers were outraged at the BBC for permitting the mascot to appear on television during the current crisis between Israel and Hamas.
One person fumed: ‘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? Antisemitism is fast becoming normalised.’
Another said: ‘It really is time to defund the BBC, on the latest episode of University Challenge they allowed Christ Church Oxford to use the anti semitic mascot of a green octopus, this was a different mascot to one they had used previously. No one should be paying a fee to the biased BBC.’
Others threatened to complain about the mascot and the fact that one of the contestants appeared to be wearing a jacket that matched the colours of the Palestinian flag, but many people jumped in to defend Christ Church College, claiming that some angry viewers were being racist in their online abuse.
One person wrote: ‘The University Challenge Octopus uproar, is ridiculous IT’S A TOY OCTOPUS. That’s it. Not a Nazi octopus. Hysterical and paranoid response, with a number of people picking out Gorgianeh, in a headscarf.. which feels like racism to me…..’
The University Challenge Octopus uproar, is ridiculous
IT'S A TOY OCTOPUS. That's it. Not a Nazi octopus.
— Jack Mendel ✍️ (@Mendelpol) November 21, 2023
Another wrote: ‘I agree. It seems very unlikely that this was intentional. But depending on when this was filmed, the BBC does have a moral duty of care to contestants which wouldn’t have been discharged (if after Oct 7) by letting them become the centre of an entirely predictable storm.’
Someone else said: ‘Wow! Some of you are *really desperate* to single out and bully a Muslim woman and accuse of her of bigotry for wearing a Zara jacket while sitting near a team mascot cuddly octopus on University Challenge.’
The BBC has now blasted the complaints, saying in a statement: ‘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.
‘The jacket worn by one of the contestants was navy blue, orange, pink and green, bought from a High Street retailer. It has no connection to any flag.’
It has come to my knowledge that the stuffed animal shown in my earlier post can be interpreted as a symbol for antisemitism, which I was completely unaware of. The toy in the picture is a tool often used by autistic people as a way to communicate feelings.
We are of course…
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) October 20, 2023
The fury comes after Greta Thunberg deleted a social media post showing solidarity with Palestine and Gaza after criticism over an octopus toy in the background of her video.
The 20-year-old wrote: ‘Today we are striking in solidarity with Palestine and Gaza. The world needs to speak up and call for an immediate ceasefire, justice and freedom for Palestinians and all civilians affected.’
After criticism, she deleted the post and replaced it with a cropped version, without the octopus, writing: ‘It has come to my knowledge that the stuffed animal shown in my earlier post can be interpreted as a symbol for antisemitism, which I was completely unaware of.
‘The toy in the picture is a tool often used by autistic people as a way to communicate feelings. We are of course against any type of discrimination, and condemn antisemitism in all forms and shapes. This is non-negotiable. That is why I deleted the last post.’
University Challenge airs Mondays at 8.30pm on BBC Two.