University of New Mexico funds plane ticket home for Israeli student worried about his safety amid campus protests

Gal Arad was just in Israel on May 15 competing in a race in Jerusalem, where he won first place in both the men’s 100-meter sprint and 200-meter sprint.

By Shiryn Ghermezian, The Algemeiner

The University of New Mexico (UNM) offered to buy a plane ticket to send one of its Israeli students — and star athletes — back to Israel this week after he expressed concern for his safety amid anti-Israel protests at the university.

Israeli sprinter Gal Arad — a third year student at UNM studying computer science — completed his spring semester at the university, which ended last week, before returning to Israel.

“Mr. Arad asked to be sent home as soon as possible, as he did not feel safe being here,” Eddie Nuñez, the vice president and director of athletics at UNM, told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.

“As you are probably well aware, the University of New Mexico is no different than what most colleges are facing in regards to protest,” he added. “I cannot speak to what Mr. Arad was feeling but we supported him on his decision to go back home. At no point did we choose to send him home. We supported his decision and also funded the opportunity for him to be able to travel back home.”

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Nuñez said he does not know if Arad, 24, will eventually return to UNM, but the Ramat Gan native told the Israeli publication Ynet that he will find another school where he can finish his studies.

Arad previously studied at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, from 2020-2022.

Nuñez also explained that on April 2, Arad entered his name in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Transfer Portal, which is for student athletes who want to transfer between NCAA member institutions.

Before officially entering the portal, UNM coach Darren Gauson offered Arad the opportunity to remain on the school’s team for next season with his full scholarship.

By entering the transfer portal, his scholarship would not be guaranteed for the next year, which Nuñez told The Algemeiner is standard procedure.

“Gal is aware that if he chooses to return to UNM to complete his studies that it will be his financial responsibility,” Nuñez said, when asked if he has any knowledge about Arad’s future plans to complete his degree. “By choosing to enter the transfer portal on his own accord, he forfeited his athletic aid.”

Arad was just in Israel on May 15 competing in a race in Jerusalem, where he won first place in both the men’s 100-meter sprint and 200-meter sprint. His finish time in the 200-meter dash — 20.70 seconds — is the second-best time in Israeli history for that race.

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The same day as his race, New Mexico police removed a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment,” and arrested and charged students at the university.

The students had camped out for weeks at the school in protest of Israel’s war against the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip and also US support for the Jewish state. They were arrested after refusing to vacate the premises.

Nearly two weeks earlier, student protesters took over the university’s Student Union building, chanted “viva Palestine,” and demanded that UNM divest from companies associated with Israel.

They also had confrontations with police, who arrested 16 people.

UNM President Garnett Stokes said in a statement on May 14 that the school stands for peace “in all global conflicts” and will review and research its investment portfolios, with results being shared in August.

Because of his return to Israel this week, Arad was able to compete in the Jerusalem Grand Slam on Monday, the first international competition in Israel since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks, which launched the ongoing war. He finished fifth in the 200-meter race.

Arad responded to The Algemeiner late on Wednesday, saying, “I have no complaints against the University of New Mexico for sending me back to Israel. The university acted generously towards me and ensured my safety.”

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“However, I do criticize the university for failing to prevent riots stemming from ignorance and fake news, which lead innocent American students to support a terrorist organization, creating an unsafe atmosphere for Jewish and Israeli students,” he added.

“I want to clarify that except for the events that occurred this year at the University of New Mexico, I found the previous year at the University of New Mexico to be a warm home for high-level studies and training.”