Christ Church College appeared on Monday night's episode of the popular BBC Two quiz show with a blue octopus soft toy on their desk in full view of the audience.
Following the episode, a fierce online row broke out with some viewers claiming the toy was a reference to the ‘antisemitic trope’ alluding to an imaginary worldwide Jewish conspiracy.
Other social media users claimed that the blue octopus was an intentional symbol of hatred towards Jewish people, as it resembles Nazi propaganda.
Meanwhile, some even implied that the jacket worn by one contestant bore the colours of the Palestinian flag, in reference to the ongoing conflict in Gaza and Israel.
A BBC spokesperson spoke out against the abuse that the students have received online since the programme aired, and explained the toy and the contestant’s choice of clothing were entirely unrelated to any of the accusations.
“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,” the statement read.
“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 message continued by stating that the student’s hoodie did not share the same red, white, green and black colouring as the Palestinian flag.
The spokesperson continued: “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.”
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…
— BBC Press Office (@bbcpress) November 21, 2023
Prior to this, some commenters on social media had raised scepticism about the inclusion of octopus, accusing the broadcaster of antisemitic bias.
“It really is time to defund the BBC, on the latest episode of University Challenge they allowed Christ Church Oxford to use the antisemitic mascot of a green octopus,” one viewer wrote. “No one should be paying a fee to the biased BBC.”
Ben Obese-Jecty, a prospective Tory MP candidate, branded the toy’s appearance as “disgraceful”, adding: “Antisemitism is fast becoming normalised.”
However, others criticised viewers’ focus on Gorgianeh, who wears a hijab.
“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,” reads one post.
Another X/Twitter user added: “Hysterical and paranoid response, with a number of people picking out Gorgianeh, in a headscarf, which feels like racism to me.”