Campaign mailer sent by Rich Desmond’s campaign shows opponent Gregg Fishman in a shrugging pose. (Photo/Courtesy Fishman)
Campaign mailer sent by Rich Desmond’s campaign shows opponent Gregg Fishman in a shrugging pose. (Photo/Courtesy Fishman)

Opponent’s use of ‘shrugging’ image is antisemitic, Sacramento pol says

A Jewish candidate running for supervisor in Sacramento County is accusing his opponent of using an antisemitic trope against him in a campaign mailer.

The political ad sent by Rich Desmond’s campaign shows candidate Gregg Fishman in a shrugging pose, alongside text labeling him as “all talk, no action” and a “hypocritical politician” in the race for a seat on the five-person county governing body.

In an Oct. 28 video posted to Facebook, Fishman asserted that the “shrugging Jew” is an antisemitic stereotype. In another post, he provided pictures of antisemitic artifacts from the 19th and 20th centuries showing Jewish men shrugging.

“It’s depicting me in a [way] that’s been used in anti-Jewish propaganda for decades, if not centuries,” Fishman said in an interview with J.

Desmond’s campaign denied Fishman’s accusation in a statement to J., calling the shrugging pose “a very common gesture … so common it’s used daily as an emoji in everyone’s iPhone.”

Fishman and Desmond are both running for the county’s District 3 Board of Supervisors seat. Fishman, a Democrat, is a member of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, while Desmond, registered as an Independent, is a longtime employee of the California Highway Patrol.

“This is a last-ditch effort of a desperate campaign, and the absolutely false claim of anti-Semitic imagery demeans real anti-Semitism in our world,” Desmond’s campaign manager Mark Cullum wrote in an email to J. “Rich is proud of his strong support from our local Jewish community.” He included a list of six local Sacramento Jewish residents who endorse the Desmond campaign.

Desmond “strongly condemns anti-Semitism,” Cullum added.

Fishman said he is willing to give the Desmond campaign “the benefit of doubt” that they didn’t know about the stereotype, but said he is disappointed that the response did not acknowledge the antisemitic history behind the gesture.

In another complaint, Fishman also alleges that the Desmond campaign flyers are violating state law that prohibits a candidate from sending out “materially deceptive audio or visual media” about an opponent. For the rule to be enforced, a lawsuit would have to be filed against Desmond’s campaign. “That option is certainly on the table,” Fishman said.

The Anti-Defamation League declined a request for comment.

In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, UC Berkeley Jewish studies professor Ethan Katz said there’s nothing outwardly antisemitic about the flyer to the casual observer, but that campaigns should be extra careful when sending out materials in light of the country’s rise of antisemitic incidents.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler was a staff writer at J. from 2019 to 2021.