Postcard from... Jerusalem


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The Independent Online

A few puffs during a Hebrew production of David Mamet's The Old Neighbourhood has extinguished theatrical smoking in Israel for ever.

The country's highest court has banned smoking in theatres – both on and off the stage.

The court case was ignited at the Haifa Theatre in 2010, when Orly Zilbershatz-Banai, one of Israel's most celebrated actresses, lit up while she was playing the character of Jolly, sister of Mamet's protagonist Bobby Gould, who has returned to his boyhood home in Chicago after the collapse of his marriage.

Local lawyer Einav Avrahami was so incensed she filed a suit against the theatre and its owner, the Haifa City Council, arguing that Ms Zilbershatz-Banai's nicotine-stained five-minute monologue violated Israeli legislation which has banned smoking in public buildings since 1983.

A class action suit filed last year in the Haifa District Court sought damages of £175 for each member of the audience – a legal move that, if it were successful, would have bankrupted the theatre.

On Monday night a three-judge panel at Israel's High Court ruled that the right to freedom of expression is superseded by the public's right to health, but did not impose a fine. In 2010, the US Supreme Court declined to review a ruling that banned smoking onstage in Colorado. It is permitted in at least 12 other American states.

Israeli theatre companies say their artistic expression will not be affected by the court ruling: they have switched to electronic cigarettes.